It took me a long time to get into Converge. Their music is an ugly thing to behold, and over their 24 years their music has never stopped hurting. I had kept on reading that name here and there in magazines, always praised, and it seemed like something I was missing out on. One listen to Converge’s top hit on YouTube, which I think was Eagles Become Vultures, made me think otherwise. Over the next four to five years, as my listening habits expanded from rock to metal to jazz to whatever Genghis Tron is and beyond, and as Converge continued to receive the same praise and I heard a track heard here and there, I found that with time I acclimatised to aural extremities. I am not one of those people who discover grind at the age of ten and live the rest of their life by the blastbeat.
So it wasn’t until the release of Axe To Fall that I finally started to understand the genius in the polyrhythmic, discordant madness. And as I play bass, I consider Nate Newton to be a big part of that genius and madness. The guy is solid as an anchor and tight as its chain in a storm, in this case the storm being Converge’s chopping and changing guitars and aggressively free drums, of which Axe To Fall is an excellent example. With each instrument often pulling in a different direction to everything else, unison lines are the exception rather than the rule.
Listening through their backlist (eight albums give or take, there’s always some obscure or rare releases with these pesky DIY bands), you might think what’s the big deal, the bass isn’t wildly inventive, but a) Converge are part punk. Newton plays a Fender P Bass; simple, functional, and stylish enough to shine through when it chooses to do so. A fitting symbol. b) In being an anchor, the guitar and drums are able to be just the opposite; Newton is a noteworthy bass guitarist for allowing the guitars and vocals to whirl up devastating climaxes, rather than for inventive bass lines, such as in Exhale. This is why I wanted to write about him; bass solos are great in the right place, but even as a bassist who started as a bassist (as opposed to the tradition of joining a band and being demoted from rhythm guitar), I’d rather a vocal or guitar hook that stops your heart, than a mild reaction to lead bass. This style of bass playing has been a constant as Converge have evolved or regressed or whatever you think they’ve done from When Forever Comes Crashing through to All We Love We Leave Behind.
The intro of Dark Horse is an excellent example of the bass shining through at the best moments. The bass bounces off the snare in a kinetic 5/4 charge, with a monstrous tone coupled with articulate distortion. When the guitar comes screaming in, it’s the bass holding it all together whilst simultaneously shifting from the root note to the flattened third to the flattened fifth whilst the guitar stays at the root note. I remember seeing Converge start a show with it and being amazed that Newton could move around so much and play so hard and still be in the groove.
Like I said, Converge’s music is an ugly thing to behold. The storm of scraping guitars, smashing drums and snarling vocals is the sound of a vessel gone to madness. But even a cursed vessel need an anchor.