Photo by Matt Miller
Caring and Killing
by Sam Katz
There's blood on my T-shirt. Not enough to raise significant concern, though almost any mother would disagree, but certainly an amount large enough to earn me more than a few reticent glances on the half hour bus ride out of Denver. While it may very well be remnants of one of the many elbow-to-face collisions suffered at my expense, I'm not entirely positive the now sickly brownish-crimson splotches once belonged to me. Mine weren't the only cells lost during the hour-long holocaust 150 strangers and myself just survived, and even if our restless, reckless, way-past-borderline-dangerous violence toward ourselves and each other was seemingly unprovoked, we agreed afterwards, silently, through head nods and short awkward eye contact, that we were better for it, or at least less alone than we were before. Progression through aggression: our emptiness, nihilist frustration, and anger for anger's sake was for a moment quelled. Collectively we agreed that in that hour there was something in the nothingness we shared; a purpose; a simultaneous purging and celebration of that inexplicable feeling between unbearable love, and uncontrollable primal hate. "This is for the hearts still beating."
I am a product of the American 21st century entirely--horridly self-aware, conflicted, and confused. I'm convinced of but unaffected by the apocalypse around every corner, nonplussed by every color-coded terrorism level. The emotional disconnect with the world around me grows larger with every new stranger's companionship on Facebook. I have exactly 912 friends, and while looking up that valued statistic of mine, I became so distracted by the updates I had to check that I forgot why I'd asked.
I am by nature anxious but apathetic, interested in everything and bored with all of it. I am informed and enraged, but not involved, and in my own little saturated opinion-bubble, completely without influence. My social life relies on my Blackberry's calendar, which I have synced to digitally RSVPed events. I have also seen way too many pictures of cats. And not even by choice.
I feel guilty speaking for a group, but I do it anyway. Making generalizations is the norm in the social media I frequent, but I don't yet have those rights in the larger culture I am confused and disenfranchised by. I suppose you could consider me a nihilist, save for the fact that I don't really like to identify with anyone. Fucking hipsters. Lol.
To all our loves and wars
Keep pushing on
Converge was a band brought up in an interesting time. They first recorded at the end of the "golden era" of Boston hardcore, a time when straight-edge and its crew mentality had reached its militant and extremely aggressive culmination. These years began and ended with bands like Negative FX, SS Decontrol, D.Y.S, and other D.C-influenced yet in the end Bostonian-to-the-core outfits. This particular bunch of hooligans quickly became known for constituting one of the most intolerable, intense, and violent scenes in the country, all under an overarching theme of togetherness and brotherhood. But like almost all things counter-culture, the scene died in the late '80's/early '90's, giving birth to an incredibly creative and chaotic chasm of "lost boy" types. Soon enough there was an explosion of microgenres: post-hardcore, grindcore, emocore, metalcore, applecore, core of the earth, corecore--all stemming from the same place, each unique sonically and philosophically (attitude is everything in heavy music). Converge was lucky to have barely caught the aftershock of hardcore's nuclear blast, and was spawned by its aftermath, absorbing what its members craved from the dysfunctional Boston underground gene pool.
Legend has it that Converge recorded their first album in 1992, and though I've seen the physical record in the hands of some lucky YouTube user, I've never personally heard or found a copy. There were three other demos, as well as three DIY Boston compilation spots between 1992 and 1994, the year they released their first full length, Halo in a Haystack. Self-proclaimed "hardcore kids playing leftover Slayer riffs," Converge had by then managed to pile subgenre upon subgenre upon subgenre, combining all their relatively narrow sonic approaches into one vast, articulate roar. Post 1994, the band put out six full-lengths, two self-compilations, five splits, two singles, two tribute appearances, and one DVD. In that time, each member of Converge managed to be involved in at least two other side projects, every one as awesome as the individuals themselves, as well as build and run reputable, influential, and successful labels, studios, and visual art firms. Guitarist Kurt Ballou has engineered and/or produced uncounted quality metal albums; the album covers vocalist Jacob Bannon has created for Converge, assorted other bands, and his own badass Deathwish label are prototypically apocalyptic. Converge CDs are available at Best Buy; MTV2 and Fuse have run their videos and tour ads; Decibel placed four of their albums on its "100 Best Albums of the Decade" list; and Pitchfork gave their 2009 Axe to Fall an 8.5. In short, the band's pop culture exposure has few parallels in its world--how often do you see hardcore albums on Pitchfork? They're a brand by now, but Converge has remained in and of the underground, resisting the "indie-cred" backlash known far too well by "the millennials," or whatever the fuck TV is calling us these days. Converge members still write, record, produce, design, own, and roadie all their own shit. They still drive the same van they drove ten years ago and Bannon needs new knees after landing on them night after night since the '90's. No values have been compromised, and that is apparent in everything Converge.
To blog-washed, socially dejected "products" like myself, Converge would seem a light in the dark, a band obviously important enough for "DIY," "indie," and "mainstream" audiences to recognize, revel in, and respect. In the end, though, Converge exists completely above and detached from a system that has failed itself. Converge is hope to the hopeless, a model for the DIY idealist, a successful crossover, and above all, a fucking supreme band – one that history would have one day held dear, had it not resigned and killed itself, unable to exist within Twitter's 126-character limitation. A damn shame, really.
"The name alone carries a sense of mysticism, a sense of respect, accomplishment, and honesty. Having released some of the most emotionally charged music of the last 20 years, it's not hard to see why. They are largely credited with starting the Metalcore movement, being one of the first bands to infuse Hardcore breakdowns into their Heavy Metal sound. Creating a chaotic atmosphere with technical guitar work complex rhythms, ridiculous drumming, and of course Jacob Bannon's tortured shrieks, few bands possess the originality or aggression of Converge" –Jordan Smith, Sputnik Music
"Converge are a scary band. They don't scare with death metal theatrics, or hardcore-er than thou beat-down posturing—they scare with their sound… somewhere between blood machinery coughing up rust and a chalkboard nail scratching contest… a sound that creates a blackened common ground to stand on for the many species of heavy or extreme music aficionado. Converge are hell's Santa Claus, showering razor blade treats to the children from nosebleed heights. For the metal head, Converge offer a stomping technical shred at skin sloughing speed. To all the good little hardcore kids, they offer a strain of catharsis unmatched in its bleakness. And for that lucky little noise-o-phile; there's a daring compositional sense, and a bloodforest of sandpaper sound textures to hike through." –Sam Roudman, Stylus
"It's like super-hella-bomb." "Raging blastitude." Kurt Ballou and Nate Newton, interview with Metal Injection
In describing Converge, one is almost forced to use a nearly standard set of tag words: chaos, hell, metalcore, heavy, emotional, raging blastitude, bloodforest, etc. Reasonable descriptions, considering Converge is all of these things. The pitfall is the built-in assumption that Converge is solely a hardcore/metal band that only hardcore/metal kids are going to like. Again, totally fair—metal and hardcore are not the universal genres some believe they deserve to be. But luckily for the metal equal opportunists out there, Converge exists and thrives as a universal band, unrestricted and uninhibited by genre borders or typecast fan bases. Converge roams the 21st century culture bio-domes like a good-natured but fucking brutal ambassador of underground aggression. They bring with them the kind of honesty and emotion human animals can't help finding at least slightly relatable if they pay attention at all. Damn, they really are metal Santa Claus!
And just like a circus, there really is something for everyone! Listen to a bunch of jazz? Converge stops and switches keys, signatures, and styles on a dime! The virtuosity is unbearable and the group chemistry overwhelming. The pocket is defined always, but even so they can be as transporting and otherworldly as Bitches Brew. Sure, you might have to get over Bannon's screeches and the distortion on the guitars, but other than that they're pretty much the same thing. Perhaps, though, you're already a fan of the "aggressive rock music." Do you like Slayer, but aren't a misogynist? Try Unloved and Weeded Out, one of their early comps. Into early emocore and Man-O-War? Caring and Killing is your new jam. Do you like Tom Waits, but wish there was just a little more Satan in the mix? New album, Axe to Fall, 12th track, check it out. Just feel like fucking shit up, not 'cause you want to, but cause you have to? Jane Doe--the energy is at constant overload, but they give you breaks like "Hell to Pay" and "Jane Doe" that are slower, so you don't pull a fucking lung or something. Do you have emotions besides happy ones, at all? You Fail Me--all of it. Love punk, metal, hardcore, sludge, grind, power violence, crust, math, chaos, and doom? Then you probably already listen to Converge! Hell! They probably got you into all that weird shit!
The point is Converge isn't a genre band like most aggressive music is expected to be. Each album (and almost each song) has a personality of its own, just like the band itself. Black Flag sounds like hardcore (and I know I'm going to catch shit for that one), Black Sabbath sounds like metal, and Drop Dead sounds like grindcore. Just like the Beatles sound like the Beatles, Converge, sounds like Converge; a summation and departure from everything else. And as more and more imitators and admirers pop up, one truth emerges: whatever sound it is that Converge has been making for almost 20 years, is an important one.
"Our music is just very human…all human beings regardless of their interests have some need for catharsis... "
-Kurt Ballou, Minx Interview
When Jimi Hendrix plays the guitar, it's undeniable whose fingers are abusing the strings. When Eddie Van Halen rips his axe to pieces, everyone knows who's to blame. Anyone familiar with Jimmy Page could recognize one of his riffs from two miles away, underwater, while in the midst of a shark attack. That's what makes a guitar hero a guitar hero--an unquestionable style and spirit so distinct that not only is it incontestably idiosyncratic, it's painfully obvious when another guitarist has been influenced. By this definition, Kurt Ballou is a guitar hero.
He's chaotic and precise, never overthought, overplayed, or overcomplicated (actually, it's really complicated, it just doesn't sound like it). He's intense and inventive and a master of feedback, that mysterious and uncontrollable gypsy, and uses it like an eerily pointed weapon. He's got Black Flag's hectic speed, Minor Threat and Bad Brains' precision. His riffage is the illegitimate child of a completely coked-out Slayer and all the good parts of early '90's screamo. Somehow though, he never really manages to sound like any of that, with the exception of their earlier material like Halo or Petitioning The Empty Sky. You can really hear the Slayer in that shit.
Converge is not a one-member kind of band, though. True, Ballou, with lead singer Jacob Bannon's help and guidance, may write and produce most Converge tracks, but as Bannon puts it, "We all bring a certain amount to the table." If it weren't for Nate Newton's weaponry bass (and I mean that it the most literal way possible. He uses his bass as a weapon. Search "Converge mosh pit fight" on Youtube. Seriously. Do it.) and Ben Koller's warzone blasts, the band wouldn't be pushing music nearly in the same way it is and has been for the last ten years.
It would be almost twenty years, but Converge, like all hardcore bands, has had a few lineup changes. The last mutation took place in 2001, after their second guitarist, Aaron Dalbec, left to join equally huge hardcore juggernaut Bane, and Koller permanently replaced Damon Bellorado on drums. Some would argue that Converge really came into their own after this lineup was established with the release of fan-favorite Jane Doe the same year. This being the album that rocketed them into the more "mainstream," or at least critical throne they now occupy. The fact is Converge has chemistry, and chemistry is a hard thing to argue with. Witness Chernobyl.
"I feel people are searching for music and art with substance and heart. Both the mainstream and independent music communities are lacking in that. Our approach is the antithesis to that world of emptiness and our supporters are also searching for something more. That ideology crosses genres and has the potential to unify. That is a rare and beautiful thing" –Jacob Bannon, AMP Magazine Interview
Though his accessibility and lyrical empathy is the reason for his adoration by fans, I'm still fucking terrified of Jacob Bannon. It's no wonder he manages to possess between 100 and 10,000 kids every night into howling at the moon and cursing their father's fathers. Bannon's possessed himself, and not by the Devil alone. When Bannon opens his mouth, hell comes out--a sound more typical of a velociraptor or a swarm of flesh-eating locusts than of an otherwise soft and intelligently spoken, inked-up, skin and bones 30-something from MA, or any other human being. Granted, he's no Sinatra when he sings (and judging by all the guest vocalists on Axe to Fall, he realizes this), but who cares? Never was hardcore about carrying a tune, and rarely does Bannon seem to do so. He half croons and half moans in and out of notes, sounding wrathful and broken at times, hopeful and even compassionate at others. Sometimes it's just plain weird, but it's always provocative and incredibly persuasive. The winged-heart tattoo across his throat is all too literal, as this is where his cardiac muscle seems to be night after night. Bannon's way with words and challenging presence usually have half the crowd on top of the other half for a chance to pour their souls right back out at him into the microphone he almost always has outstretched to the wolves barking at the stage. It's one thing to have kids screaming the words to your songs, but to have every fan in the house by the space between their lungs and whatever heartstrings there are is something entirely different. Kids sing along, and they mean it just as much as Bannon does. He benevolently commands his audience to move and feel with him, and they comply. It's fascism at its finest.
Let's be honest. The notion of a "scene" died with the invention of the Internet. We live in a world of the individual, where everyone has a voice (or at least they think they do) and a very specific set of interests. No longer do kids show up at the beginning of a show and fight from the opening band all the way through the headliner; people don't go to see shows anymore, they go to see bands. The availability of artist's music pre-show allows concertgoers to predict the quality of a live performance. YouTube videos either beckon kids out of their basement and into the nearest venue or warn them to stay home. It's easier to know when to show up to catch the one "good" band in the lineup. It would appear that we no longer need the scene of the past, made up of bands and, however different, like-minded people who show up and beat the shit out of each other all night out of bored rage and dedication to their location. A "scene" now is just a good concert, or an exceptional band.
For that reason, I believe, myself and many other Converge enthusiasts never felt like they were a part of something until they got their head kicked in at a Converge show. By the time we were old enough to throw a fist in a pit, or go see shows for that matter, bands had already begun adapting to the post-Internet method of touring, where they follow their fan base rather than the other way around. "Scenes," whatever those were, had become safe, and were disintegrating. It was when I saw Converge that I got a glimpse of what it meant to be connected in disconnection. Everyone raging and rallying under one very forceful and almost spiritually cathartic flag--the kind of event that inspires a powerful devotion, that keeps a band in the hearts and heads of their followers forever.
Converge is an anti-product of the 21st century. Self assured, in it for the love. They're the hope and change no one else delivered. They're self-reliant, humble, disconnected and apathetic in all the right ways, and above all they're genuine, to themselves and to their public, proof that harmony--not easy or well-paid harmony, but harmony nonetheless--can exist in an unsure self-destruct-sequence machine. A Hercules, after all heroes either ODed or launched careers in slam poetry, Converge is the Fight Club every one of us "products" wanted to start after we saw that stupid movie. It's dark out, but it's not all hopeless, and Converge is a much-needed reminder to keep screaming your lungs out and fighting the fucking bouncers because there's only one time to do it, and after tonight, who knows when the scene is going to be back in town?
Keep shining on
This is for the hearts still beating
Photo by Matt Miller
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