I’ve been a pretty devoted Converge fan for the last eight years. Their new album Axe to Fall came out today. I remember the night during my freshman year of college that Kat McIver let me borrow a copy of Jane Doe. That album changed my relationship with heavy music forever.
My first introduction to punk rock had been in the form of new school punk-the blazingly fast, melodic arm of punk played by bands like NOFX, No Use For A Name, MXPX and Lagwagon. Having cut my teeth on records like Life in General and A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion I couldn’t hear the appeal in what I perceived to be the sloppier playing and sub-par vocals of crustier old-school groups.
Given that framework, when I did bridge the gap between punk and hardcore/heavy metal it makes some kind of strange sense to me that I did so by making a huge jump rather than a transition. You’ve gotta understand that when other kids were listening to ACDC and Metallica in jr. high, I was listening to Dakota Motor Co. and the Supertones. I didn’t have a background in metal.
Now, I don’t know what it was about the Zao cassette I heard in Berean Christian Bookstore one day during my senior year of high school that sparked something in me, but it wasn’t anything related to an analogue with the punk I was listening to at the time. I’d never enjoyed screaming vocals. I didn’t get it.
Then one day, I did.
That Zao record “Where Blood & Fire Bring Rest” (which I would incidentally still label as one of the most seminal records ever in terms of its affect on my development as a lover of music) led me down a road toward other bands like As I Lay Dying, Darkest Hour and Martyr AD. I veered toward a kind of melodic, sonically cleaner new school metalcore, and here I’m referring to the kinds of riffs these bands played and the rhythms they typically wrote in. There were a lot of four on the floor driving beats, a lot of melody within those riffs, and many, many, many breakdowns.
When I got hold of that copy of Jane Doe it was the first time a band really engaged me with their musicality while at the same time doing it in the context of seeming to completely come unhinged at times. Part of it was the production value. Gone were the razor sharp guitar tones to be found on an As I Lay Dying or Strung Out record. In there place was a fuzzy wall of distorted chaos within which Kurt Ballou seemed to yet maintain exquisite control, ripping out crazy arpeggiated scales, spiraling hammer-ons and a different kind of riffing, no less brutal. I got the feeling that if he stopped playing for even an instant that his entire rig would explode in a wall of unadulterated feedback. Ben Koller’s drumming carried everything along at a breakneck pace which threw the nuance and dynamics he brought to the songs into relief. And then there was Bannon.
I could go on a bender here, penning a diatribe against the unrepentant assault which mediocrity has made on hardcore over the last fifteen years. Nowhere have I seen a genre so beset by half-assed rip-offs and insecure posers. Talentless farces abound. And I get why… I mean where else can you be in a band and only play like three notes which you can then get away with labeling a legitimate song? Anyway, derivate tripe notwithstanding, hardcore is a genre that lends itself to the extremes of human expression. Jacob Bannon has plumbed those depths with the best artists of his day.
His is a medium that has at times seemed so filled with darkness, hatred, anger, self-loathing and the occasional attempt to access evil forces themselves that I’ve wondered what it is that so enthralls me about it. I think it’s the other side of the very same coin. The kind of window onto suffering, opportunity for catharsis, and unbridled display of emotion that hardcore affords sets it apart from many other genres. Jacob Bannon is a confessional writer of the highest degree in that he comes close to oversharing, truly bares his soul, yet maintains something of the artistic, the controlled descent in his writing.
There is a laconic darkness, bitterness and fury that marks his lyrics. And there is also a longing for, a yearning towards all that is good and possible and to be desired in the human condition. That paradox, the juxtaposition of suffering and longing, beauty and pain is something he’s engaged with a brutal honesty that has earned him a real modicum of respect in my eyes, despite his appetite for revenge which I find distasteful and heartbreaking. He wrote an entire album about breaking up with his girlfriend. It’s hard work to wade through those lyrics.
As I said, Converge’s new album came out today. The last thirty seconds of “Cutter” constitute the most gratifyingly brutal passage of music I’ve heard in recent memory. I love this band.
“Last Light” from 2004’s “You Fail Me”
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
I need you to be the hope of hearts who lost true love
I need you to be the might of their first kiss
I need a purpose and I need a reason
I need to know that there is trophy and meaning
To all that we lose and all we fight for
To all our loves and our wars
Keep pushing on
Keep shining on
This is for the hearts still beating