Jacob Bannon’s ostensible “solo project” Wear Your Wounds has come a long way in a short time. Since the project’s first release, 2017’s WYW, vocalist, bandleader and principal songwriter Jacob Bannon has added multiple collaborators to the project, chief among them former The Red Chord guitarist Mike McKenzie, Cave In guitarist Adam McGrath and Trap Them drummer Chris Maggio, and these additions have taken the project from “pretty good” to “great” with the band’s second full length album Rust On The Gates Of Heaven. This album marks the first time all of these musicians have properly written and recorded together, but the end result is a stunningly mature and sophisticated recording, boasting an impressive level of emotional depth, songwriting prowess and level of production (the latter being thanks to Kurt Ballou’s Godcity Studios magic touch).
The addition of the two aforementioned guitarists brings about probably the biggest change to Wear Your Wounds sound, as they inject a level of dirt, crunch and grime that allows Rust On The Gates Of Heaven to avoid the pitfalls of the group’s debut album by broadening the sonic palette and helping to write songs with a greater sense of dynamics, a stronger ebb and flow and a healthy dose of sludge and doom metal riffing.
Taken individually, there’s not really anything particularly noteworthy about any of the performances on this album. That’s not to say they’re bad, I would instead describe them as “restrained”. Bannon and Co. know exactly when to deploy the crushing riffs, distorted, ringing chords and searing guitar leads, but they’re equally as committed to reigning in musical theatrics and excesses and allowing the songs to build their sense of somber melancholy with Bannon’s serviceable, sometimes almost Tom Waits inspired clean vocals delivering his tales of sadness and longing over the soundscapes that are always cinematic and sweeping but never drawn out past their welcome.
Kurt Ballou can seemingly do no wrong as a producer and audio engineer, and his work on Rust On The Gates Of Heaven is yet another notch in an already impressive career that shows no signs of stopping. The album isn’t as dirty and saturated as some of his production jobs, but this strikes me as an aesthetic choice rather than a technical one. Regardless, the production and mixing on Rust On The Gates Of Heaven is shimmering and dreamlike when it needs to be and dirty and crushing when the songs demand it, while still often feeling spacious and sometimes even empty. Again, this is a case of the instrument tones and production of the music clearly being very deliberately tailored towards complementing the songwriting.
And the songwriting is, thankfully, excellent. While WYW was the sounds of one man using whatever means at his disposal to capture the songs he wrote both while on tour and in the downtime between, it also felt somewhat undercooked in some areas. Rust On The Gates Of Heaven fixes every single one of my complaints about the debut, and sounds like a group of veteran musicians who are obviously very comfortable working with each other, writing songs that play to each of their strengths while improving on the foundation Bannon laid on the debut. Rust On The Gates Of Heaven is heartrending, melancholic, cinematic and crushing, and if you’re a fan of Converge‘s more somber moments, or just of good songwriting in general, you’d be remiss to let this album pass under your radar.
Rust on the Gates of Heaven drops July 12th via Deathwish, and is available for pre-order on the band’s Bandcamp page.