Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.
Jukebox Breakdown: Converge – “Dark Horse”
by Chad Jewett
In the arc of releases following the breakthrough that was Jane Doe, 2009’s Axe To Fall is most often understood as Converge’s most elaborate, nuanced record, a long and rich album full of guest contributors and songs that range from the band’s more typical two-minute bursts (“Effigy”) to Tom Waits-esque mood-pieces (“Cruel Bloom”) and five-minute dirges (“Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast”). But the album’s very best moments arrive whenever the Massachusetts quartet finds a way to split the difference between those two poles, whenever they manage to balance their earlier fanged roar and their post-You Fail Me embrace of texture and ambiance.
“Dark Horse”, the album’s opening song and likely its most galvanizing, is a subtle example of the more measured, detailed touch that defines Axe To Fall. That “Dark Horse” is also such an ideal document of roaring modern hardcore only serves to further underline the nimble touch of Axe To Fall, which never lets its careful production outweigh its punchy impact. The song begins with the sort of ominous rumble that defined 2003’s You Fail Me (which, along with Axe To Fall, serves as one of the band’s two masterpieces), but swiftly pivots into a palpably spacious, bright verse, guitarist Kurt Ballou opting for a clean, melodic arpeggio that pings around in the band’s newly opened sonic field, all the more room to note the steely grind of Nate Newton’s bass and the adroit manner in which Ben Koller fluidly pivots from a 1-2 punk gallop to tight, bursting rolls. The same goes for the song’s terrific chorus, which gathers force each time around as Koller adds a fluttering double-kick rumble that lends added punch in a remarkably tight space.
Jacob Bannon’s narrative remains characteristic of his interesting balance of hard-nose affirmations and steely-eyed pugilism, but suddenly you can hear the singer as an instrument as serrated and laser-focused as his guitarist (who produced the album). It’s one of several reasons why Axe To Fall feels like Bannon’s tour de force, even if the sheer dramatic range of his performances on Jane Doe, which run from pinched shrieks to lupine growls, is arguably more salient. Yet “Dark Horse” — and the album that it introduces — remains special, if only for the ways in which it defined what makes Converge itself special: the band’s heady mix of imagination and physicality, brains and brawn.