I can't pinpoint exactly when I first heard Converge in terms of dates, but I know exactly where I was: lying on my parents' sofa late at night in a brain-dead state, watching video after video of (probably) shit metal on MTV2. Just when I was considering that it might be time to go to bed, from nowhere came Converge's Concubine/Fault and Fracture. It was one of those perfect musical discoveries. You know when you're waiting to hear 'the new thing' without knowing exactly what you want it to be? Well it turns out that, at that time, I was in the market for some totally brutal thrashcore.
I was blown away. Not just by the song: the video is fucking terrifying. Unfortunately, thanks to MTV gremlins, the song info didn't appear at the end. The following day I posted a description on the Punktastic forum to see if anybody could enlighten me as to who it was by. However, as was often the case with my occasional internet utterances, nobody responded. It was some years - a good time after I had gotten into Converge properly - before I discovered who that video was by.
Music started to get a bit heavier in my bedroom as the millennium drew to a close. Steve Lamacq's heavy rotation of Little Discourage led to Idlewild becoming a bit of an obsession, and, again, as a lot of people born in the mid-1980s can probably relate, I still own two Limp Bizkit albums bought during this period (they're currently hidden in a big box of neglected CDs at my mum's house). Thankfully, At the Drive-In helped to steer me back onto a more credible path, and the early-00s screamo scene – while not always engendering the same amount of street cred as ATDI – cemented a pretty comprehensive interest in American post-hardcore.
I became aware of Converge after getting into Poison the Well and Dillinger Escape Plan in a big way. To begin with, I felt they were too heavy - you've heard Jacob Bannon’s voice, right? - but I developed an almost morbid fascination, which meant that I kept returning to their website to check them out. Eventually, I picked up a sale copy of No Heroes (2006). That record is punk as fuck - only five of its fourteen tracks break the two-and-a-half minute mark (admittedly one of those is nearly ten minutes long, but even that’s pretty punk, right?) - and the first four tracks are an absolutely punishing run. Relentlessly pugilistic riffs and drums batter the ears as Bannon howls against them, sounding like he's gargling a cocktail of rusted screws, broken glass, and vinegar.
It wasn't long after getting into No Heroes that I made my first ventures into writing heavy music of my own. In fact, the guitar part of Fault and Fractured Wrists is one of those early efforts and, if you’ve listened to No Heroes, its influence is pretty clear.
This was a good four or five years before Rough Music became a going concern (at this point in time I was still focused on playing in The Toy Band – pretty different, eh?), but I accumulated riff after riff, each one drawing influence from my flourishing interest in hardcore. This became symbiotic: the more my creative impulses focused upon the style, the more I wanted to explore it. After reading up on Converge, it became apparent that the record everybody recommended was Jane Doe (2001). So I bought it.
To date, Jane Doe is still one of the most intense records I own. Even the songs in which the tempo drops and the texture becomes less complex (Hell to Pay; Phoenix in Flight; Jane Doe) are soured by dissonant melodic lines, unnerving vocals and, in the case of the title track, a crushing weight of emotion. Bannon has been open about the album's lyrical themes being 'born out of a dissolving relationship and the emotional fallout from that experience', and this clearly come to the fore musically here. Not that it's easy to determine what these lyrical themes are. His vocals are characterised by their inaudibility; when I first bought Jane Doe, I amused myself by imagining that he was screaming 'CHELSEA BUN' in his first entries in Concubine (he is actually screaming 'JUST STAY GOLD').
Jane Doe is clearly the song that the preceding music points towards; its 11 minutes batter the adrenaline built up throughout the listening experience out of the body, leaving the listener emotionally drained and in need of a cup of tea (at least, that's my experience). This adrenaline is relentlessly encouraged: from the blastbeats, breakdowns and buzzsaws of opening double-hit Concubine and Fault and Fracture, through the fists-in-the-air hardcore party jam of Homewrecker, to the almost Bartókian riff and roll workout of Thaw, there is hardly any space to relax and take stock of what-the-fuck-is-happening.
As such, its not just Converge's music that has influenced myself and many others in our creativity; it is also their fiercely independent stance and apparent disinterest in what is expected of them as a hardcore band. They have come to set the terms upon which modern metalcore is created and appreciated, and as this interview with Bannon suggests, it is almost impossible to go to a hardcore show without seeing Jane Doe herself looking out at you from a T-shirt, hoodie, or tattooed arm.
Photo from eodtattoo.com
I hope you listen to the album. It is one of the most brutal, complex and engrossing pieces of music that I have heard, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do, for these reasons or for reasons of your own. If you don't enjoy it (which you may not - I mean, it is pretty fucking heavy) then I at least hope that you appreciate its uniqueness. If you don't hear that then, well, fine. At least you listened.
Rough Music's debut EP, Long Songs, is out now - buy it here. The band will be playing a Long Songs launch show (with support from American Graffiti, Kancho, and Helen Chambers) at Le Pub in Newport tonight.