Trap Them might steal from Converge, but why not? | Music Essay | Indy Week
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Trap Them might steal from Converge, but why not? 

Partially masked bandits: Trap Them

Photo courtesy of Prosthetic Records

Partially masked bandits: Trap Them

The old maxim remains: Great artists steal. From Led Zeppelin's outright theft of Delta blues tunes to The Cramps' pilfering of rockabilly obscurities, theft—brazen plagiarism, even—has driven innovation in music for decades.

But it takes gall to repurpose one of hardcore's most memorable refrains and call it your own. That's exactly what Trap Them did on "The Facts," a track that lands smack in the middle of this year's much-praised Darker Handcraft: "I am that goddamn son of a bitch," singer Ryan McKenney hollers with all the fury Glenn Danzig put into refuting his role as said SOB in the Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare." The moment is a standout among standouts, but it also betrays a trait that Trap Them makes no effort to hide: The band might just be metal's most talented artful dodgers.

"I don't want to stand out from the rest of the pack," McKenney told extreme music magazine Decibel earlier this year. "At that point you're just trying to position yourself as better than everyone else. That's not what this band is about. I want to be considered part of the pack ... We don't feel any pressure to be trailblazers."

The band's career—or at least its loyalties—echo McKenney's sentiments. At the front of Trap Them's pack of Northeastern metal-hardcore hybrids stands Converge. After almost 20 years, Converge can count at least three genre landmarks in its discography: 1996's Petitioning the Empty Sky, 2001's Jane Doe and the band's latest effort, 2009's Axe to Fall.

That most recent album nailed shut any question of Converge's cross-genre influence and prominence. In 42 minutes, Axe to Fall moves from dissonant avant-metal and atmospheric rambling to Motörhead-like rock 'n' roll and grimy grindcore, all without sacrificing the band's central identity of ferocious, snarling hardcore. It was enough to prompt critic Cosmo Lee, writing for Pitchfork, to declare Converge "this generation's Black Flag," and the band's guitarist-cum-producer Kurt Ballou "this generation's Steve Albini." That same year, Converge filled sets between High on Fire and Mastodon on a tour with cartoon metal headliners Dethklok.

Converge casts a long shadow, and it's questionable whether Trap Them has any desire to emerge from under that shadow. Though Darker Handcraft was issued by Prosthetic Records, the band pulled a two-album stint for Deathwish Inc., the record label helmed by Converge frontman Jacob Bannon. Trap Them has recorded its last five releases with Ballou. And now Trap Them is touring as Converge's opener.

Must a band believe itself to be unique—if not ahead of the pack, then at least apart from it? If so, what then of Trap Them, whose most obvious flaw (hewing so closely to Converge's sound) is easily dismissed by the band saying, essentially, "Well, duh"?

What's more, Darker Handcraft is a good album in its own right. It ramps up the hardcore urgency and Swedish death metal guitar tones that Converge started to shed as it became a more texturally varied outfit. Despite its assertions to the contrary, that puts Trap Them at the head of a pack that also includes bands like California's Nails and Charlotte's Young and in the Way. These bands are hybridizing metal's ugliest offspring—grindcore, sludge, crust, death and black metal—and suddenly gaining popular ground.

Great artists steal; most don't have the audacity to confess.

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