When one thinks of aggressive, innovative and inspiring bands that have defined and driven hardcore in the ’80s/early ’90s, one thinks of legendary acts such as the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Black Flag and Sick of It All. However, when one contemplates the bands that have driven, defined and revitalized metallic hardcore in the last 12 years, one cannot help but point to the achievements of Converge — a near-legendary act that has transcended the peaks, lulls, trends and ever-shifting attitudes in the underground to emerge as one of its precious few trendsetters.
Formed in the winter of 1990 in Boston, MA, by core members/founders Jake Bannon (vocals/design terrorism) and Kurt Ballou (guitar) during the initial height and subsequent collapse of the Boston hardcore scene, and currently rounded out by bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller, Converge’s musical legacy has been indelibly etched in the aggressive music annals by its cannon of constantly progressing, innovative, influential and intelligent albums, all of which hold true to Converge’s unwritten mandate of musical honesty, brutality, beauty, emotion and artistry. A commitment that has made them constants, flag-bearers and leaders during a prolific period of longevity virtually unheard of in the hardcore underground, with a very few exceptions.
With their first full-length CD, Caring and Killing (HydraHead, 1996), after a substantial string of seven-inches and compilation appearances, Converge demonstrated considerable glimpses of the musical mayhem and innovation that was to come. However, it was with the release of Petitioning The Empty Sky (Equal Vision, 1997) that Converge’s mix of metallic thrash staples, hardcore/punk-influenced structures and anthemic emotional explorations, coupled with an artistic presentation and unmistakable blackened vocals, truly began to blossom. With Petitioning…, Converge foreshadowed and defined a synthesis of metal and hardcore that continues to thrive in popularity to this day, creating the blueprint for countless others to find success with years later.
Continually staying ahead of the throngs of metallic hardcore acts emerging in their wake, Converge recorded When Forever Comes Crashing (Equal Vision, 1998) with Steve Austin, of Today is the Day infamy. With When Forever…, Converge pushed their artistic limits to new levels of anguish, while musically evolving a noisier, more atmospheric and emotionally rending brand of metallic hardcore that was spurned on by complex playing, increasingly vicious vocals and poetically shattered lyrics. When Forever… kept Converge ahead of a hardcore scene now dominated by uninspired mosh-metal while perfectly reflecting hardcore’s upcoming twists and turns, in the process dictating a number of them. The technically ruthless slant explored on Converge’s split CD with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, The Poacher Diaries (Relapse, 1999), was an aggressive kill-crazy rampage that took Converge’s technical mayhem to its utmost extremes just as the complicated-core/tech sub-genre of hardcore was finding its footing. But it was with 2001’s release of Jane Doe (Equal Vision) that Converge offered their most challenging, ambitious and successful work of art to date.
Eschewing any of the then current trends and refusing to rewrite past successes, Jane Doe was one of the darkest, bleakest, most unrelenting and punishing acts of musical emoting ever committed to disc. A 12-step conceptual journey of despair and loss, including a striking and beautifully disturbing 28-page booklet of accompanying art (courtesy of Bannon), Jane Doe took Converge’s musical aggression, creativity and penchant for artistic nihilism-as-therapy to unparalleled emotional depths. While unmistakably Converge, Jane Doe’s sound reached harsher and more emotionally draining levels of abuse, relenting on, but not entirely abandoning, technical precision to focus on emotional upheavals and an all-or-nothing buffeting.
In a live setting Converge are no less menacing. Having cut their teeth playing with anyone of importance during metallic hardcore’s mid-’90s revival, Converge’s live show is fraught with flailing equipment and bodies, with kids piled five-deep in a desperate attempt to close on the mic, all the while driven by Bannon and Converge’s demonic exorcisms and emotional venting. Having risen over the years from opener to riot-inducing showstopper, Converge has headlined or played virtually every major hardcore/metal fest in North America, embarked upon countless U.S. tours, ventured to Europe, Japan and Canada, and in 2002 played both dates of Japan’s Beast Fest 2 festival alongside the likes of Slayer, Hatebreed and Motörhead.
With Converge’s role as metallic hardcore innovators/trendsetters/flag-bearers firmly cemented with over a decade’s worth of aural destruction, it would have been easy for Converge to succumb to the hyperbole like many before them and become unapproachable elitists contemptuous of the scene they helped drive and that initially formed them, but they haven’t. In addition to Converge’s substantial musical and artistic contributions to the underground and the members’ countless side-projects (Old Man Gloom, Supermachiner, Kid Kilowatt, etc), singer Jake Bannon has done artwork/design for such notables as Poison The Well, American Nightmare and Cave In, among numerous others, in addition to overseeing all Converge artwork (and designing the bulk of it), while guitarist Kurt Ballou has recorded and produced such notables as Converge, Suicide Note, Drowningman, Cave In, Curl up and Die, and the Hope Conspiracy, among others at his God City Studios. Furthermore, in 2001, with partner Tre McCarthy, Bannon founded Deathwish Inc., a label dedicated to giving back to the hardcore underground scene that has given so much to them. To date releasing heavy hitters Jesuseater, the Blinding Light, Reach The Sky, The Promise and Horror Show.