After five long years, hardcore legends Converge are back. Their first album since 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind, The Dusk In Us is an aptly titled exploration of the hurts and promises latent within a world receding from the light. And while Converge have matured with this album, that maturation in no way implies a mellowing of their characteristically caustic delivery. Scabrous, frenetic bombardments of metallic guitars and hyperkinetic drums support Jacob Bannon’s gargling-with-broken-glass vocals in ways both more damning and more life-affirming than ever. For no other band in this vale of tears better encapsulates the law/gospel dynamic than Converge. And no one else energizes us in the same way to step out into that dusk and race after the lambent light of hope.

One of their most decisive mission statements came in the form of 2004’s You Fail Me, a stark collection of diatribes against our race’s proclivity to ruin everything. In that album’s second song, Bannon pleads, “I need you to be the strength of widows and soul survivors/I need you to be as fearless as new mothers and new fathers,” articulating the demand we all properly feel towards our loved ones, the demand that is also placed upon us as sharers in the image of God. But it is a demand we inevitably fail to attain, on our behalf and on behalf of others. “You fail me,” Bannon bellows in that album’s title song, vocalizing the judgment of God and of our fellow human beings, before pronouncing the final indictment we are so afraid to hear: “You fail yourself.”

Their records mete out wrath and mercy both, eviscerating counterfeits of life and love and extolling steadfastness and sacrifice. To the average American it can be said, Converge hates everything about the way you live. But more than that, they hate the ways we and they fail ourselves and one another. Converge are aware in a way few other bands are of the encroachment of death that threatens our existence yet simultaneously occasions the lifeworlds we construct in response to its menace. Our being-towards-death can illuminate a mode of being-towards-life that isn’t paralyzed by fear but keyed towards genuine humanity. This recognition of limits and the tenuousness of all we hold dear fuels Converge’s drive for authentic living and their loathing of all that stifles or suppresses it. “No one will break your fall,” Bannon barks in their song, “Hope Street” to every opportunistic bastard the world over. On previous efforts the band made audible the desperation of fighting to survive with integrity. Now, however, they find themselves enmeshed within a larger scenario, one that is rooted in familial love. In the album’s opening song, “A Single Tear,” Jacob Bannon spits:

So lost in darkness, in and out of selfishness
Hoarding all my dreams was just no way to be
Then you gifted me such a precious thing
A chance to be someone who deserved love

The experience of fatherhood, of being called to stewardship, is a summons to a recalibrated, reconstituted self. Converge marshal grime and harness chaos to repulse the grime and chaos that threaten everything good. As Bannon sees it in “A Single Tear”: “When I held you for the first time I knew I had to survive.” Converge’s ferocity isn’t the undisciplined outburst of the sociopath—it’s the indignant fury of a father or mother protecting their own and holding nothing back, the severity of a Rick Grimes or an Ellen Ripley unleashed against the scum that brutalize their loved ones.

Bannon confronts head-on the fact that to exist is to be born into “a cruel, cruel world” in “Wildlife.” This is a thread running through all twenty-seven years of Converge’s music, grappling with the disappointment of the world as it is given and the ache of aspirations for something pristine and life-giving. Do those aspirations imply their possibility? Given that there is no alternative world to escape to, what are the possibilities for living well? For dying well? Is our world a domain in which we even have the right to demand to be free? Bondage seems to be the norm when we survey the landscape: bondage to tyrants, bondage to debts, bondage to addictions, bondage to self. Where is even a vestige of the freedom we were promised, that we were instructed to exploit to the utmost? If the world is not, in fact, ripe for the taking, positioned perfectly for our self-development, doesn’t this call into question our bent towards coercion and mastery? Might not our presuppositions of what it means to live and to thrive be flawed at bottom?

Of course this doesn’t stop many (most?) of us, and this pointless clamoring after dominance enrages Bannon. The manic lunge of humankind after the phantom of autonomy tramples everyone and everything in its way. One option might be to withdraw from the struggle entirely, but the band rejects this. “And the wildlife was hunted not for the heart but for the hide/To warm the bones of cowards that were left behind/And the lotus wilts with the guilt of the wasted time/What does it say about the ones who never even tried?” It’s this “never even tried” that provokes such fury from Bannon. He has no illusions of triumphalism whatsoever, no expectation that we should devise our own destiny and then demand its accomplishment. But to never attempt, to collapse over a lifetime into an entombed pattern of existence is a defamation of life and self. We are all failures but, by grace, some of us never abandon the hope of wholeness, the hope of being something more than a failure.

“Reptilian,” the album’s closing song, emphasizes this fundamental dissatisfaction with the empirical selves we are confronted by and disgusted with as we persist over time. It catapults from a doom-laden overture to the most pronounced thrash the band has produced in over a decade. Over a propulsive, palm-muted crunch, Bannon shrieks of “shadow kings…/Whose shrapnel seeds the desert fields/And sprouts this war we see.” This nightmarish vision of the world as apocalyptic battlefield gives way to an acknowledgment of the base, instinctual portions of our selves that contribute to the world’s awfulness. How can we not fall prey to the anti-gospel of the disappointment we always already are? “We must lose sight of who we are to know what we can be,” Bannon pronounces without the faintest trace of Pelagian puffery. We are all ashamed, all wounded, but we do not have to be defined by our failures and fractures. The vitriol Converge bring to bear against the toxicity of our pasts isn’t rooted in a resigned and ultimately self-centered bitterness. Futility is the end of that path, but the way of Converge is generative. New possibilities arise when Converge ignite their vehemence.

Those possibilities spring into existence through the teamwork of guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton, and drummer Ben Koller, all of them freeing one another to concoct and enact fresh prospects where other purveyors of the genre succumb to constriction and exhaustion. Their synergy casts them as more than simply trailblazers of extreme music: they are unmistakably one unit, one delivery system, but more than that: a family. The camaraderie that births the music bleeds through the mix. Converge no longer sound desperate. They now exude the assurance of having been appointed the guardians of something precious, and in part, it is each other. As Bannon spews out shards of fear and resentment in “I Can Tell You About Pain,” his band mates shout to him: “Jacob—stay calm! Keep your head down!” They know the wave of anguish will break and pass over him, and together they affirm their nearness to him and the nearness of his relief. In an almost liturgical move the band vocalizes the sentiment many of their listeners would love to convey to Bannon firsthand.

Which they do, in a way, whenever Converge perform live. The hardcore background they emerge from is one that dissolves the barrier between musician and audience and sweeps listeners into the performance, into the being of the band itself. There’s something uncannily close a participationist metaphysic in Converge’s music that beckons the audience to situate themselves within the first person singular pronouns of Bannon’s lyrics and transmute them into “we” and “us” and “our.” Those lyrics dramatically enlarge our individual struggles by re-identifying them as participants in a cosmic conflict—in other words, as what they truly are at bottom. And they invite us to unload our distress upon the songs, to find our champions in the band as they wade into battle with every vile and perverse thing that would strip us of our dignity and rob us of meaning.

We experience the purgative value of this all as the abreaction of our fear and dissatisfaction, and rage is accomplished in the lightning rod of Bannon’s lyrics and the face-peeling brutality of the band’s assault. They do not promise deliverance—only a fight. But in the fight we find the grace to live with the selves we have been and the grace to anticipate becoming more than the sum of our failures. The music itself manifests that hope. Strange as it may sound to some, the aggression captured on The Dusk In Us actualizes a temperate, realistic optimism. And though there is brooding contemplation and seething rage to be found here, there is no self-indulgence at work. Bannon is the rare lyricist who can navigate the razor-thin precipice that empties out into self-loathing or self-congratulation. Converge have neither the time nor the patience for self-absorbed sadness that wallows in defeat nor the inflated sense of importance that comes from a misguided martyr complex. They despise the commodification of despair and the pimping of insincere hope both. Let the dead bury their own dead.

People often say that music of this sort is useful as a release for anger or sadness or other “negative” emotions. I’m not sure I agree with this as, if anything, I find that Converge focuses and hones those emotions from the diffuse experience of surviving a cutthroat, dilapidated ruin of a world. This music ministers to us by gathering up the diffracted distresses of fallen existence and bringing their mute, amorphous hurts to speech. Converge interrupt the denial of fallenness we are all tempted towards at times and insist, This is the way the world actually is. But just as forcefully: But it’s not how it has to be. And while they never articulate a summons from the Creator who judges himself in our place, that is the only scenario that completes the logic of their ethos. “You are not far from the kingdom of God,” Jesus said to the teacher of the Law who spoke wisely (Mark 12:34); might not Converge be closer than they themselves would concede? If Converge are not purposely against the gospel, might their music not, in fact, be for it, though under the veil of its opposite?

If nothing else, The Dusk In Us forces us to acknowledge the self we are so often ashamed to be but does so in order to impel a movement towards becoming something more than that self. The music galvanizes our settled resignations and condemns our inauthenticity and faithlessness, bringing life out of death and breeding hope out of the ruin of false hope. Whether explicitly Christian or not, that is a worthy musical endeavor. But for we who have been shattered and reconstituted by the gospel, The Dusk In Us brings to memory a fundamental truth. Every tear that falls is gathered up by a good God who does not ignore or forget his children’s pain (Psalm 56:8). He records all our woes and will make every crooked way straight again. And so we, strangers and aliens to the present, cruel world-system, can bristle and brood with hopeful expectation because every tear that falls must converge in the indignant grace of this God.