Death and taxes might be the only things as reliable as Converge -- and neither kicks as much ass as the consistently excellent long-running Boston math-metal quartet. In advance of the forthcoming Axe to Fall, out October 20th on Epitaph and featuring collaborations with many of the band's heaviest friends (including members of Neurosis and Genghis Tron), SPIN.com spoke with frontman Jacob Brannon about the new album, Converge's roots, and being out-partied by Mastodon -- whom they'll be sharing stages with on tour starting October 2 in Portland, Oregon.
You've been a band a long time -- since 1990. What's the most exciting thing about the new album?
That we sufficiently creatively challenged ourselves. We raised the bar from the previous album [2005's No Heroes]. We appreciate our past albums, but we're very much about forward movement and challenging ourselves musically and expressing ourselves emotionally. If we can do that successfully, which we did on the new album, then we've made a solid move in the next chapter of the band.
How did you guys challenge yourselves?
For a very long time, we've wanted to do a collaboration album where we could include people we're close with or friends with and who we gel with musically and socially. Now, we did that and it's pretty seamless. [Axe to Fall] doesn't feel like a big rock record where the guest vocalists come out and a spotlight is being thrown on them. It's much more involved than that. It's much more refined.
Which collaborators stood out?
Our friend Sean Martin played guitar on "Reap What You Sow." He's known for being sort of a meat-and-potatoes guitarist in Hatebreed -- though he left the band recently to pursue his hip-hop producing work -- but he's also an amazing soloist and he never got a lot of accolades for that. So when he came in and played an absolutely ripping solo, it was inspiring and refreshing to hear a friend of ours shine like that -- and do it in a way he hasn't done before. But we're appreciative of everybody's efforts.
This far into your career, is growing your audience something you still think about?
Being a band for 20 years and doing it for the reasons we do it is antithetical to an idea like that. To put it simply, we write and perform music because it's something we emotionally and psychologically need to do. It's a very selfish thing. We're not a band that thinks about where we should propel ourselves. A really good analogy is that a lot of bands today are either artists or entertainers. We very much align ourselves with artists. We don't see ourselves as entertainers. We go out there to express ourselves -- not to entertain. Success for us is not about selling records. Success is writing a song that moves us and inspires us.
Can you talk about some of the inspirations for the new album?
Not really. We're a very introverted band. There aren't too many bands like us that have been around for as long as we have that make abrasive heavy music. Because of that, we've stopped being reflective of influences in a one-dimensional sense. We do our own thing. We feed off each other rather than look to the outside world.
You're going on tour with Mastodon this fall. Does it get competitive when you're playing with a band as good as they are?
No. This is our fourth tour with Mastodon. They've been great friends of ours for years -- even before they were in Mastodon. In fact, [Mastodon drummer] Brann [Dailor] was on the shortlist of drummers that we wanted to talk to about being in converge before Ben [Koller] joined us ten years ago. So we've been close to those guys for a very long time. Touring with them is inspiring and fun. Fun because they're great guys, inspiring because they're an extremely talented band.
Is it hard keeping with them when it comes to partying?
Well, we're not a partying band. We're a little extreme in another sense. You'll hear stories about a band throwing a chair across the room because they're obliterated. We don't do it because we're obliterated, we do it because we consciously want to pick up that chair and throw it across the room. We only do things that we want to do. There are no excuses.