Behold. Converge are a 4-piece hardcore punk band from Salem, Massachusetts. Reigning lords of the underground, they are the most important act in all counter-culture music, forming the backbone of modern hardcore and its DIY independence. With tenacious pursuit of creativity and advocacy, Converge have brick-by-brick constructed an empire against which all forms of aggressive music are measured. Their current line-up combines arguably the most talented and innovative musicians of the genre, giving rise to some of my very favourite songs ever made. A stalwart leviathan, Converge foreran the introduction of class and grace into punk music and are indeed one of the most influential acts in all independent music.
Founded originally as a cover band by vocalist / visual artist Jacob Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou, Converge spent the better part of the 90s developing their sound, touring extensively and discovering who they were artistically. Boasting a chaotic live performance, Converge quickly built a name as a powerhouse in the punk scene, packing out whatever venue they were hosted with emphatic audiences and expansive sound. Bannon is a wiry tornado of fire and conviction, literally throwing his entire body into what I consider to be the greatest voice of any hardcore vocalist. Pure gold to the core, Bannon is genuinely appreciative of his crowd, encouraging harmony amongst the more fanatical, sharing the mic with anyone who fights to the stage front, and smiling in marvel of the collective surge of his admirers. By their third LP, 1998’s “When Forever Comes Crashing”, Converge had amassed a cult following and were revered as genre-defining leaders.
After a multitude of rotating bassists and drummers, as well as the culling of the 2-guitar song structure, Bannon and Ballou decided to lock onto their current line-up, the final and true representation of what they hoped Converge would one day become. This essential administrative shift introduced metal juggernaut Nate Newton of Doomriders and Old Man Gloom on bass guitar, and drummer prodigy Ben Koller, since borrowed by a multitude of rock / hardcore groups and regarded as one of the most original, airtight percussionist in the scene. This was the sweet spot where creative minds, proficiency and drive assimilated beautifully into a single sonic force of nature.
And then came “Jane Doe”. A perfect storm of talent, writing, production and packaging, “Jane Doe” has been rightfully garnered with universal acclaim and steadfast adoration. I distinctly remember my first experience of Converge via Much Music’s “Loud” program. 12 years old, I was equal parts afraid, intrigued and amazed at the sole dual-single of the album, “Concubine / Fault and Fracture”. Music videos being largely whatever the videographers want them to be, the first half of the film is a classic cheesy and grotesque horroresque vignette not exactly within the realm of Converge’s esthetic. However, the latter portion cut to Converge in the glory of live performance – 4 dudes wailing on their instruments, demanding undivided attention and emphatically making their message known. Some time that year my brother worked up the courage to purchase a copy of “Jane Doe”. Keeping it hidden from site like some sacrilegious scripture, it might as well have been, considering how we poured ourselves over it with absolute zeal and repetition, soaking in every nuance of sound, lyric and visual design.
To this day I am in awe of “Jane Doe”. A flawless masterpiece, it is a relentless fury of raw emotion, technical performance and innovative production. I’ve played it straight through start to finish countless times, necessitating the purchase of 3 CD copies during my teen years due to physical wear. Written in the wake of a dissolved relationship, “Jane Doe” is an open book relaying a demise of love. From the opening statements of “Concubine”, “Dear, I’ll say gold just to keep the pasts at bay,” to closing epic eponymous farewell, “Run on, girl, run on,” the journey is saturated with ire, pain, loneliness and desperation. Spanning spastic barrages of indecipherable noise and beats, teeth-gritting low-chugging riffs, lightning fast fret work and drum fills, gang vocals and a spectrum of intermediate tempos / moods largely absent from punk, “Jane Doe” offers a bit of just about everything. The cover art has since become an icon for punk and a beacon for pursuing caliber in counter-culture. It is, quite simply, the single greatest artistic accomplishment of all hardcore.
The next revelation was in follow-up LP “You Fail Me”, an album that was at once a natural extension of “Jane Doe”, and in a way, its antithesis. With a highly-refined, cleaned-up esthetic and a compressive, almost suffocative effect on Bannon’s vocals, it made for an entirely different experience. After a few listens, it became clear that one thing remained, as always, remarkably consistent: the quality of Converge’s songwriting. With riffs in 5/4 time, apocalyptic tone and shredding, punishing drums patterns, it was once again a masterpiece. Hailed by a multitude of critics as metal album of the year, “You Fail Me” was the perfect confirmation that Converge had hit their stride.
Since then, Converge have maintained their momentum like a charging rhinoceros, releasing acclaimed LPs “No Heroes”, “Axe to Fall” and their most recent, “All We Love We Leave Behind”. Each featuring 13-17 songs of heart-felt brilliance, there’s been hardly a misstep in the last 15 years.
Outside the band, each member lives a busy life devoted to their other passions. Bannon is co-owner and -operator of the now-gigantic Deathwish Inc. (http://www.deathwishinc.com/), a record label and distribution company that has seen the release of hundreds of albums, hosted music festivals and even sponsored MMA athletes. In addition, Bannon is a celebrated visual artist, acting as the principal visionary for Converge and the vast majority of his Deathwish roster’s merchandise, album jackets and website design. You can peer into his life a bit closer with a recent gorgeous mini-documentary entitled “Rungs in a Ladder”: http://youtu.be/C4r2wlMSLJ0. Regularly featured in galleries around USA, his work can be purchased at his website (http://www.jacobbannon.com/) and Converge’s Estore (http://www.kingsroadmerch.com/converge/). Together with his wife, they also run a stylish boutique shop called “Diamonds & Rust” out of Beverly, Massachusetts (http://diamondsandrustshop.com/). Ballou, a biomedical engineer by training, was a quick study with recording and production techniques during the making of early Converge records. He subsequently founded GodCity Studios in 1998 and has put out a hoard of records for close to a hundred bands (many signed to Deathwish), as well as most of Converge’s releases. Newton and Koller keep busy with their aforementioned bands, recording and touring constantly.
Jane Doe – Fault and Fracture (http://youtu.be/CMPvknyczCE)
You Fail Me – Drop Out (http://youtu.be/5hcUxV7BmSc)
No Heroes – Heartache (http://youtu.be/GdzYnIxNZnQ)
Axe To Fall – Axe To Fall (http://youtu.be/CS6rCAGGpEI)
All We Love We Leave Behind – Predatory Glow (http://youtu.be/1fBgZtSAz70)