Top positive review
(4.5 stars) A true landmark
on February 5, 2008
Converge sure can do it all. Rugged Slayer riffage, chunky, hard-hitting power chords, grinding leads, oddball off-kilter rhythms, throat-scraping screams, pounding drums, eerily quiet and serene interludes, steady, humming bass lines, bass soloing (!), wild shred guitar soloing, innumerable thunderous breakdowns and jarring shifts of speeds and moods, catchy gang shouts, intelligent lyrics, etc, etc, etc. And all that is just in the first song ("The Saddest Day")! Whew!
Converge exploded from Boston, Massachusetts in 1990, and even though they had already recorded several demos, a vinyl EP, and even a full-length CD prior to 1997, that year's "Petitioning The Empty Sky" is generally regarded as the band's "real" beginning. That's probably because in addition to being their best release to date, this album proved Converge were starting to mature and come into their own by developing an immediately identifiable sound. Converge's roots lie in hardcore, but it would not do them any justice to be confined to just one category. "PTES" is the ultimate shape-shifting mix of hardcore, melodic hardcore, Slayer-influenced thrash, punk, grind, black metal, death metal, emo/screamo, straight-edge, metallic hardcore (which is now known as metalcore), prog, crossover, and tech/noise/mathcore. As a result, it has been chalked up in the history books as an extremely big, important, original, and (most of all) influential extreme metal milestone that spawned a legion of imitators in not only hardcore, but all of the above genres as well.
The aforementioned set opener "The Saddest Day" is the album's undisputably biggest highpoint. It is a legendary seven-minute-long whopper that begins as a typical hardcore song and ends up all over the place. It truly redefines words like "expansive," "intricate," "awesome," "genius," "memorable," "complex," "challenging," "unpredictable," and "multi-faceted." And its seven proceeding studio tracks don't disappoint, either, even if none of them QUITE match its exact same level of excellence. "Forsaken" is a more traditional metallic hardcore skull-stomper, and is propelled by fiery, machine gun riffs, some of frontman Jacob Bannon's most deafening and black metal-lite shrieks of all, and a classic hardcore breakdown complete with a from-the-gut bellow of "go!" (a trend that has become almost pervasive in recent years).
Track three, "Albatross," marks the album's first big stylistic change that proves Converge still hold their punk influences close to them, and it even introduces some modern-day-sounding emo elements into the mix. "Albatross" is also of note for being the first song to proudly show off the band's sophisticated sense of melody (and does so to great effect). Jacob's vocals are especially twisted here; he intertwines some very deliciously melancholic and insidious clean vocals around his typical, ever-present lung-stretching screams. The track also includes a nice, aquatic, lightly-picked guitar outro that gives the listener a little time to catch his or her breath. "Dead" is also substantially more melodic than usual, and is wonderfully climactic. It builds from a peaceful intro and more melodic vocals to a mean, heavy, bullying second half bolstered by a fat, trudging, driving bass line and crunching riffs.
Next up, "Shingles" is highlighted by a bit of bright, siren-like melodic guitar tapping, another superbly muscular, propulsive, a dirty, grumbling bass line (which is prominent throughout the song), and some booming metallic guitars. At a mere one minute and ten seconds, "Buried But Breathing" is the record's shortest number; but it is nonetheless a remarkable one, thanks to its strong, darkly chugging rhythm and memorable, honest-to-god pop-punk-ish, finger-pointing shout/chant along of the title phrase.
Moving along, "Farewell Note To This City" is another huge highlight, as it is about the closest thing to a ballad Converge have ever recorded. It clocks in at just over five-minutes long, but it's still undeniably epic! And man, is it b-e-a-utiful! It features some positively gorgeous strings, killer bass sections, and more vocal variation (including whispers, nerve-damaging yells, and impressive, mournful proper singing.) It keeps you on your heals throughout its playing time because it constantly threatens to explode into chaos. And even though its energy does snowball, and it segues into heavy and angry territory (with frenetic tempo changes, fiery thrash riffs, and deft, pounding drums), "Farewell Note" ends before it gets too out-of-control. "Color Me Blood Red" returns the band to their heavy, in-your-face roots. It certainly isn't a bad tune, and it certainly rocks quite hard, but it seems less like a suitable conclusion to the album than "Farewell Note To This City" would have been.
The reissue of this album comes with four bonus tracks. The first three really intense, straight-forward and old-school hardcore-esque live cuts that are bolstered by chugging riffs. These three tracks are very raw, but their sound quality is exceptional. They are also cool because they leave in mistakes, thus helping them to sound so primal. (The two most notable ones are when a band member hits his head on the microphone stand, and when one of the guitarists' strings breaks in "Homesong," and he stops to repair it.) Finally, "Love As Arson" is a manically brutal hidden track with grindcore-worthy ferocity that tears through the speakers and rips the listener's ears clean off.
If "Petitioning The Empty Sky" has any flaws, it is that it doesn't flow well. None of the album sounds very much alike, and it just hops (rather haphazardly, too) from one song to the next. As such, this disc might initially be a challenging and bewildering listen to some, and certainly one that takes a while to get used to and warm up to. Regardless, this album is still quite friggin' amazing, and is filled with an abundance of excellent, brilliant, unique, epic, and contagious material that will not be soon or easily forgotten. A must own for all serious metalheads worldwide.