Coming close to almost 30 years as a band, Converge are one of the most highly praised bands to have emerged from the hardcore underground. Devastatingly committed to their artistic integrity, Jacob Bannon and Kurt Ballou’s Massachusetts trend setters have a longevity and cult status that is testament to their ability, all backed up by consistent acclaim from critics and fans alike. With only a month to go before the release of their ninth full-length The Dusk in Us, their first album for five years, let’s take a look through the very best tracks amongst their vast discography.
10. My Unsaid Everything (When Forever Comes Crashing)
Before the days of Jane Doe, at which point Converge broke out from obscurity to become full-on underground music icons, the opener for their 1998 effort When Forever Comes Crashing glimmers as a track from a band with monstrous amounts of potential still finding their feet. This musical wreckage (in the best possible sense) adheres to mathcore sensibilities, far more along the lines of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity; sporadic time changes and a warping of any straightforward structure provide a solid entry point into the rest of the band’s third full-length, culminating in a metalcore-style breakdown which, whilst inventing the trope, also still shames the many imitations that it has produced in the twenty years since.
9. Lonewolves (No Heroes)
This track from 2006’s No Heroes is a rare relic – possibly the most “fun” song in the Converge catalogue. Well, as fun a song that features such lyrics as “This world owes you nothing” can be. Kurt Ballou’s repeated staccato riff bounces around like that fucking annoying Ripper Roo boss from the waterfall level in Crash Bandicoot, the guitar producing sounds akin to some bizarre circus sideshow. And with ringleader Jacob Bannon at the helm, opting for mostly half-hearted yells this time around, it’s a bizarre turn from Converge, pumping out blistering pogo-stick bops and even allowing a cheeky little “silence… hello snare-and-china combo!” moment towards its close. Then again, it’s not all shits and giggles; Bannon reminds us that “We sit in silence, dead or dedicated, alive or medicated” so…
8. Jane Doe (Jane Doe)
It’s fairly common to see seminal albums’ title tracks are the closing “epics”, but it’s fairly uncommon to hear one as splendidly crafted as this eponymous tune from their landmark 2001 masterpiece. Following the eerie ghost-train ripper of Thaw comes an extremely brooding soundscape, Bannon barking like a choking Rottweiler over a slow pace which dips in and out from this initial motif to then build and build and build into what is one of music’s most spine-tinglingly euphoric outros. The collection of guitars, bass and drums has never sounded so resolute in its layering and is just so remarkably HUGE. It takes about 10 minutes to get there, but that time (and the song’s remaining three minutes of euphoria) feel timelessly worthwhile.
7. Trespasses (All We Love We Leave Behind)
One journalist from a particularly renowned music magazine once referred to Converge’s last venture All We Love We Leave Behind as “stadium rock”. Considering Trespasses is the LP’s second song, this reviewer must certainly have given up 20 seconds into the opener or have completely mixed up their CD cabinet, listening instead to the safety of their U2 record collection. This track is a barnstormer, never letting up for a second, with Ben Koller’s rabid kicking only one example of the foursome absolutely ripping their instruments apart throughout its course. It’s bloody heavy as balls basically, so I find that initial comment erroneous.
6. Trophy Scars (No Heroes)
No Heroes interests me as a record due to its seemingly liquid song structure which also acts as an assembly of small – and starkly longer – chunks. Trophy Scars, much like the album’s centrepiece Grim Heart/Black Rose, stands as its own segment, one which blends both the maniacal grit Converge fans are so used to, whilst slowing up in its main refrain: one of the band’s most sublime moments. A deafened, palm-muted guitar plods along, giving way to sharp stabs of chordal noise every now and then, whilst Jacob Bannon yells, as if from a distance: “I want to live without the guilt we give. I want to die without your name.” Whilst funnily acting as a seriously stressed version of Rob Brydon’s man-in-a-box impression, the half-volume desperate wails are agonising and beautiful. Wonderful production from Ballou, and this was also the first Converge album which he produced himself.
5. Axe to Fall (Axe to Fall)
“Show me Converge in a nutshell.”
Here you go: a minute and a half of pure adrenaline, distortion and wall-breaking insanity. Of course, discounting all of the band’s skill in producing tender moments of slower, sludgy brilliance in other tracks, the main component of this complex chemical formula is the all-out desperate, frantic rush which the band, and the listener, experience as one. And with Bannon’s final assertion “I need to learn to love me”, this example of short song syndrome is punishing and profound in equal measure.
4. Heartless (You Fail Me)
2004’s You Fail Me doesn’t make it into my favourite Converge album spot often (an ever-changing first-place podium place for sure), but Heartless surpasses many other bangers. Mid-range in length, and a crushing example of Kurt, Nate and Ben’s creepily accurate music telepathy in the stop/start nature of the instrumental, it rocks and rolls with all the punches towards its midway point, when Ballou pulls out the most joyously perfect white bunny from his bottomless magic riff hat. It almost sounds bluesy, if you stuffed the guitarist’s whammy pedal with dynamite. Plus, Bannon won’t be lamenting about romantic loss over some vintage bourbon. Instead he produces more of his characteristically brilliant lyricism from the very recesses of his despair: “I’m leaving love’s lost battles to the vulture’s need to feed”. A song that delivers on every thoughtful level.
3. Sadness Comes Home (All We Love We Leave Behind)
Speaking of kingly fret-based dominance, nothing has slowed Kurt Ballou’s creative chops, as 2012’s Sadness Comes Home bursts onto the scene with another of his finest riffs to date. Opening up like a tortoise handling a closed envelope, it’s the dopest of stoner-rock sounds (ironic as Ballou is straight-edge), the plodding pace amplified by Koller’s almost lazy banging of the toms. Not that the initial crawl lasts long; in typical Converge fashion, the guitar’s neck gets absolutely shredded with hammer-ons and pull-offs, and the rest of the cohort get in on the act and light that shit up, maintaining a break-neck pace before the chilliest of cool-downs back into that main riff. It’s almost like a circular narrative, if you happen to be reading cross-legged in the middle of a circle pit.
2. Concubine (Jane Doe)
A record so mammoth in importance has to start as well as it ends. In my opinion, Jane Doe’s frightfully acerbic first track Concubine matches, and exceeds, the quality of the aforementioned closer. The choppy switchblade-esque intro gives way to amalgamated chaos, all produced wonderfully by the tag-team of Kurt Ballou and Matthew Ellard whose expertise helped cement this album into the annals of music history. And whilst Jacob Bannon waxes lyrical about being separated from his love, almost Shakespearean sonnet-esque in its poetry, all you can hear is the grating sound of mating foxes. The pure strain that Bannon puts on his voice to convey his artistic intent is admirable, and whilst you may not have a clue what’s being said, who cares? His screams are an onomatopoeic weapon that are as divisive as they are meaningful. This beatdown-crazy thrill ride was my introduction to Converge and remains both undaunted in its effectiveness and a pure joy for heavy music fanatics.
1. Dark Horse (Axe to Fall)
This may, in fact, win the award for the most exhilarating heavy bopper to have ever graced these battered eardrums. Converge’s album openers always tend to be amongst the cream of the crop, and Dark Horse from Axe to Fall is the creamiest. The sundae consists of the following: Nate Newton’s thunderous bass (base), topped with crunchy, incessant snare-hits from Ben Koller, layered with a blend of blistering finger-tapping, heavy hitting chord sequences and a few feral string bends, all topped with various shavings of vocals, from mid-range yells to Bannon’s signature bearish growls. The constant switches into Koller’s blast beats and the more measured bridge section continue the flow of Converge’s aggressive musical affront like a boxer delivering one uppercut after the other. It’s a full-blown hardcore knock out and I will never, ever tire of that bassy precision in the opening which provokes every drop of serotonin in the human body. There’s no wonder why this remains a staple part of Converge’s famously frenzied live shows, and it will surely prevail.