Converge, Torche, and Kvelertak, of thee I sing. On arguably the year's best touring lineup, three of the best metal bands of the 21st century proved that melodic doesn't mean saccharine, punk doesn't mean sloppy and that hardcore is worth saving.
Norway's Kvelertak amass more contradictions than a week of Mitt Romney campaign promises--a hardcore sextet with three guitarists, death metal without blast beats, shoutalongs in Norwegian. Fighting off mic difficulties and a ruptured disc, singer Erlend Hjelvik riled up the crowd from center stage while the band stormed through most of their 2010 debut. The d-beat riffage of "Mjød" provoked the evening's first mosh pit, and the thrashing "Blodtørst" and "Ulvetid" could have sat next to "Ace of Spades." Kvelertak probably won't tour again until their next album is out in 2013, and they deserve a headlining tour for it.
Torche intentionally changed the pace, showcasing more of the fleshed-out, major key glories from Harmonicraft and Meanderthal than their piledriving blasts of their singles. Not that the wallop wasn't there--the deadly Bo Diddley of "Letting Go" and Siamese Dreamscape in "Kicking" set the night for a cinder block-heavy stoner-pop show, driven by the supermelodies of guitarists Steve Brooks and Andrew Elstner and the restless drumming of Rick Smith. The lovely "Snakes are Charmed" and "Across the Shields" held up not only next to brutal tracks like "Pirana," but the two bands that Torche played between.
Now in their third decade as a band they've been in since boyhood, Converge shouldn't be surprising anyone. But their new album All We Love We Leave Behind is an accentuated version of their track record to date, as math-ridden and as straightforward as anything they've put together. This week's set was heavy on the new album, with the grinding "Trespasses," mathcore freakout "Aimless Arrow" and sweat-inducing title track eliciting as verbal and physical a reaction as anything from Jane Doe or Axe to Fall.
Technical problems couldn't derail the band, who carried on with segments of "Hot for Teacher" and even "Linus and Lucy" while the Highline staff worked out the sound issues. Singer Jacob Bannon whipped around the microphone like a limb, dodging bandmates, crowd surfers and stage divers with the deftness of a professional dancer. Kurt Ballou, whom, it should be noted, also produced the best albums by Torche and Kvelertak, is as vital a guitarist that punk rock can claim. By the time the crowd was satiated with a rare encore, 1996's "The Saddest Day," it was clear that Converge are one of the only bands ever to appear both DIY and born into greatness.