In their April 2005 issue, Alternative Press published "Bringing It Back: AP's Hardcore Special." Only two of the 16 featured bands are still active (the remaining 14 are either part-time or gone), but that's not the point. Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon's salient points about the scene still ring true and apply to the band he's been in for nearly two-thirds of his life.
He opined that hardcore is "the antithesis to all things insincere and disheartening; it is music as expression, rather than entertainment." He continued: "When the mainstream takes a step into the community searching for the next big thing, real hardcore takes two steps to the left or right." If there's one thing Converge are, it's sincere and full of heart, or rather they are the heart, pumping aggressive music full of life. The immeasurably influential band have no doubt influenced some of the trends that caused the mainstream to come knocking, whether through their music, or their members' other outlets: a trend-setting record label, an unrivalled recording studio, an instantly recognizable style of visual art or just more music.
The Massachusetts metallic hardcore masters have spent nearly three decades breaking rules and rewriting the book, only to take two steps to the side when everyone else crashes their party. That they've managed to do so without tripping over themselves is a testament to their ability to constantly reinvent themselves and the music world around them.
1990 to 1993
Jacob Bannon, age 14 and primarily playing guitar and bass, joins up with guitarist Jeff Feinberg and drummer Damon Bellorado; they bond over a mutual interest in Motörhead and Judas Priest. They begin jamming on random song ideas and play covers of favourites like Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag.
Writing music especially leaves an impression on young Bannon. "Doing that kind of thing when you're so young is so thrilling because you're making something out of nothing, out of thin air," he tells Exclaim! now. "That's probably at least the beginning for me, artistically and musically, making something more than just a quick sketch or an adolescent drawing. You're making something substantive that kind of sounds like the stuff that you're listening to, so there's a validation that happens when you do that sort of thing; it's a really powerful thing to do."
They bring in guitarist Kurt Ballou because, according to Bannon, they want a better guitar player than Feinberg, who moves to bass. "We knew that Kurt had an Ibanez and could play like scales and stuff like that. He was more advanced than we were because he was older than us by a year in school, which, especially at that point, feels like the person may as well have a moustache and family of four."
They decide on Converge as a name (after initial idea Undertow turned out to be taken), in an effort to find "something that wasn't a total hardcore cliché," according to Bannon. "And even that was [a cliché] to a degree, but it wasn't taken by anyone else."
Reflecting on the name to Decibel in December 2009, the vocalist says, "There are cooler, more evil, more descriptive band names out there, but I don't think anything else would really work for us."
The band head to West Sound Studio in Londonderry, NH — chosen, according to Bannon, because Only Living Witness recorded their demo there, though Ballou insists it was OLW's friends Stand Against who inspired the choice — to track their Gravel demo, which they self-release and distribute on cassette. At a show in Boston, where Ballou is selling the demo in the crowd between bands, he meets Aaron Dalbec and Tre McCarthy; the former will join the band on guitar, and the latter will become their tour manager and later forms label Deathwish Inc. with Bannon.
Bannon and a friend press seven-inches containing some Gravel songs on their own label, F.A.R. (Foundation America Records); they send 300 copies to independent distributor Dutch East India Trading, who take the records, never pay the band and don't return calls.
Converge release two more demos, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Dog Days in mid-'92 and early 1993, respectively. Bannon describes Where Have All the Flowers Gone as "pretty good, at least for the time," noting its sound was closer to Starkweather and Confusion than their more straightforward hardcore. "Savior Salvation," appears on a compilation called In Our Blood, as well as Converge compilation Caring and Killing alongside "I Abstain" and "Yesterday" find homes on later releases, but three songs are lost forever, since no one in the band has a copy.
Dog Days is named after the cover photo, which was found in the garbage at Kinkos where the artwork was made.
1994 to 1995
Converge recruit guitarist Aaron Dalbec, who also joins Bellorado in a side project called Bane the same year. The addition opens new possibilities up for the band, who are experimenting more thanks to diversifying musical interests. "When you mixed metal and hardcore then, you got Carnivore, or you mixed metal and hardcore and you got Sick of It All doing the Just Look Around record," Bannon tells Exclaim! "Basically, if something was metal, it meant it was just professional and played well, and we were trying to do something different."
Their debut full-length, Halo in a Haystack, is released on Earthmaker Records (Bannon's label) and Stolnacke Records in spring 1994. Bannon pays for the release with money saved from working at a nursing home. He's disappointed with the album art — composed in part by pictures found in a used bookstore and pieced together by the print shop, which falls short of his vision. He'll begin taking control of all band-related art on future releases. Every track will eventually appear on other Converge releases except "Exhale," which Bannon recalls Ballou just didn't like.
Converge open the first leg of a tour with Daltonic, during which they meet Channel's Nate Newton, who'll eventually join them on bass. Bannon will continue on as a roadie for their tourmates, also selling copies of Halo, which are almost all sold out by the end. He visits Epitaph Records, with whom Converge will sign a decade later. Epitaph is eye-opening; seeing punks driving forklifts transporting palettes of Offspring records, Bannon realizes how big punk is. "It's really hard to describe how impactful all that stuff can be when you're a kid," he says now.
The band nearly halts here; with Bannon and Ballou both attending post-secondary school in Boston, Feinberg doing the same in Montreal, and peer bands such as Arise and Overcast slowing down, the members prepare to sound their death rattle. That turns out to not be the case, though 1995's Twin Terror seven-inch, a split between Converge and Overcast, wasn't a symptom of revival, because neither acts' members even knew about or approved the release. Hearsay Records simply put it out because of access to the masters from each bands' first seven-inch. Bannon shrugs it off now because, "it was more the wild west back then."
Deciding that the five hours between Montreal and Boston "wasn't the end of the world," according to Ballou, in 1995, they release a seven-inch called Unloved and Weeded Out via Tre McCarthy's label Orionquest Records and Heliotrope Records. "It had teeth," Bannon says, linking it more to contemporary Converge than the stuff that predated it. The three-song release might have been a bit longer, but recording to the notoriously temperamental ADAT results in a lost track called "Tremor," which they eventually recover and include on a compilation sharing the Unloved and Weeded Out name. Their earlier material would also get legs again this year, via the Caring and Killing compilation, which collects songs both from previous releases as well as unreleased ones.
Ballou comes up with the name GodCity Studio, more a hobby than business at first; the name comes from the first line of a Soulside song. "When I first started the studio, my ultimate business goal was maybe someday I'll have my own phone line and I could have, on the answering machine, 'This is GodCity,' he'll tell the Scion Music(less) Music Conference in 2011. "I thought it would be really cool on an answering machine, so that's why I chose that name." Ballou clarifies to Exclaim! via email that Brian McTernan, who recorded the Unloved and Weeded Out and Petitioning the Empty Sky seven-inches, was the one who encouraged him to start recording.
Petitioning the Empty Sky is released on Ferret Records, first as a four-song seven-inch, then as an 11-song CD. Bannon tells Noisey the initial release was "one of the first times I felt really content in what I captured. It was hectic and unhinged, and those wild sounds and voices I wanted to create I'd actually been able to."
It also contains "The Saddest Day," likely the band's earliest song that still gets occasional play live. Bannon recounts writing it in Kurt's "sort-of dorm-room apartment." In a 1996 interview posted at Veilsofteeth.com, Bannon explains the band had historically been against guitar solos, likening this tune's to "almost a metal parody" and revealing the lyrics as "kind of a documentation of people getting older and forgetting the people that they cared about and forgetting the things that really meant so much to them."
Three of the CD's additional songs are from a live radio performance, during which a song is stopped due to a broken string. Bannon is heard saying, "I hit myself with the mic stand in the head and I'm bleeding; I'm bleeding like a sieve. It was my fault. I'm okay. It'll make us look punk."
It also contains an unlisted cover of Twisted Sister's "Burn In Hell." "We always thought that it was like a super heavy song that was actually a pretty well-crafted song," Bannon says. "Popular metal culture always treated them like such a sort of comedic act. We were like, 'Hey, you know, this song is pretty good, let's just have some stupid fun with it and pay homage to it, not take ourselves too seriously."
1997 to 1998
Bassist Jeff Feinberg leaves and is replaced by Cave In's Stephen Brodsky. Ballou joins Kid Kilowatt, whom he already recorded, on guitar. The band are a softer, more emo-esque outlet for Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath of Cave In, alongside Aaron Stuart of Piebald and friend Matt Redmond. Due to the members being busy with other projects, the band peter out, though they would record everything they wrote together posthumously and eventually release it as Guitar Method in 2003.
Converge releases for 1997 include: a five-inch featuring "Downpour" and a cover of "Serial Killer by Vio-Lence; a split with Coalesce entitled Among the Dead We Pray for Light; and a split with Brutal Truth for Hydra Head's In These Black Days: A Tribute to Black Sabbath, for which they cover "Snowblind." Bannon tells us Converge had previously covered the doom pioneers' eponymous song, circa Halo in a Haystack, though our search for proof has been futile.
Ballou recalls having to break Brodsky out of high school to record the five-inch; the bassist hides in the bushes from the school truant officer for the band to pick him up.
In April 1997, they headline the Really Loud Music Festival in Northampton, MA; part of their set will appear on 2003 DVD release The Long Road Home. In the crowd is Equal Vision Records' Steve Reddy. "I remember thinking, 'Wow even the nerds/emo kids are kicking the shit out of each other,'" he recalls. "I was totally impressed by them live and I was shocked by their mass appeal across the entire scene."
Conversations with labels such as Relapse, Earache and Victory (who actually turn Converge down), don't result in anything concrete, but Equal Vision signs Converge in July and reissues Petitioning the Empty Sky before unleashing When Forever Came Crashing in April 1998.
It's their sole release produced by Today Is the Day's Steve Austin and only LP with Brodsky on bass, who departs to focus on Cave In (whose debut studio LP, Until Your Heart Stops, will be produced by Ballou). Jesuit's Nate Newton replaces him. He'll reveal why in an interview with Aversion.com, saying, "So, I had no job, and I was like, fuck it, I'll go. So thank you, Converge, for ruining my life. I was about to spend the rest of my life working as a cabinet maker."
1999 to 2000
Drummer Bellorado departs and is replaced by John DiGiorgio, whose first show with the band is at a Chinese restaurant; this lineup record six songs for Converge's side of The Poacher Diaries, a split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed on Relapse.
One of the few tours completed with their new drummer, this one in Europe, inspires the band's next LP, when Newton sees a pamphlet or billboard about violence against women and begins a conversation with Bannon about a nameless, faceless victim, the bassist tells Decibel. The band bring a three-song covers comp across the Atlantic, the Y2K EP, featuring previously-released Vio-Lence and Black Sabbath covers, plus a cover of the Cure's "Disintegration," which would also be released on a Cure covers comp.
DiGiorgio doesn't last the year and is replaced by Ben Koller, whom Ballou knew from recording his previous bands and a short-lived side project, Blue/Green Heart. The then-new drummer will describe joining to The A.V. Club in 2016: "I joined when I was 19 and fresh out of high school, so I was pretty intimidated by these seasoned older guys. I went from the kid in the front row in the crowd to being in the band — it was a real Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star type thing. I was a young spazzy guy, and I think my playing style allowed for the band to explore directions they maybe wanted to go in, but never could before. I've always just tried to do my own weird thing."
In 2000, Bannon and Tre McCarthy start their label Deathwish Inc. "We created a pro-band, proactive environment for bands to be treated as they would want to be treated," Bannon will tell Exclaim! in 2001. "Deathwish Inc. is trying to do as much as possible to help out our friends who are in bands that we think are fantastic, but have received the short end of the stick. And also new bands that are not getting the time of day from any of the larger labels."
Deathwish Inc.'s first release will come the following year — a split between Converge and Japan's Hellchild, called Deeper the Wound; Converge's contributions including a demo, a Depeche Mode cover and three live tracks.
Converge release their landmark album, Jane Doe; it's invigorated by the addition of Koller, Newton's increased contribution to songwriting, a new tuning Ballou has invented, and powered by Bannon's need to achieve catharsis from a deteriorated relationship. "I remember all of us wanting to write a hardcore record the kids were going to hate," Newton will tell The A.V. Club in 2016.
Basic tracks for Jane Doe are recorded by Matthew Ellard, whose goal is to make a "big rock record," and features some particularly noteworthy moments. After recording in the studio's larger room, they're kicked out (and take over the smaller room) because singer-songwriter James Taylor has booked it for himself, paying full price and even getting escorted around by an entourage. Looking back for Decibel's Hall of Fame piece — a monthly in-depth feature the metal mag calls "the definitive stories behind extreme metal's definitive albums" that has included both Jane Doe and You Fail Me — Koller quips, "Why did he need to be escorted? Who cares about James Taylor anyway?" Ballou later records guitar overdubs at his own studio barefoot, allowing him to operate the tape machine with his feet. Bannon's vocals are recorded in the dark at Fort Apache studios in a large room set up like a venue in order to combat his shyness. "By doing that, I was able to just lose control and get all my negative emotion out of me on that stage, and on tape," Bannon tells Decibel. "I listen back now and I sound like a rabid animal in a lot of places. It's definitely vicious. You can hear that real anger and emotion in there for sure."
In October 2004, Bannon will tell Exclaim! that, "It's dealing with loss, betrayal, the search for hope and desperation. It's a very desperate record, and for me, I guess, a very tragic record from a really, really low point in my life. It's about coping with that, dealing with that, trying to find some sort of resolve in that."
Newton contributes whole songs — "The Broken Vow" and "Heaven In Her Arms" — for the first time; his presence is also challenging for Ballou. As Newton will tell Decibel, "It was the first time Kurt had someone telling him, 'Hey — I don't like what you're playing.'"
Bannon's vision defines the album art, including a face on the cover that will become a de facto symbol for Converge. Equal Vision don't like the booklet design, where lyrics are not clearly laid out. Bannon will explain his vision to Noisey: "I'm trying to create a fine art representation of the emotion that is within the songs. It's a bit frantic, so it has some really kinetic typography that isn't necessarily always legible. I'm not always legible as a vocalist, so I wanted to treat the art that way."
In the end, Equal Vision's Reddy understands, saying "Not every band has a clear vision of what they want to do and Converge knew what they wanted, they were able to convey it and deliver on it. We did whatever we could to help them make the records they wanted to make and try to get them out there."
In a 2012 interview with Exclaim!, Bannon recalls Jane Doe's initial reception. "I have a giant binder that was given to me by the company that promoted the Jane record, and I would have to say 95 percent, or maybe 90 percent, of the press was hugely negative. People didn't understand it, but they weren't meant to. We're not an easy band to get into. We'd be exposed to people who were basically fans of contemporary commercial metal at the time and we don't fit that; we speak an entirely different language. To them, we're just this fucking chaotic noise that makes no sense, which has no sort of merit or validity. But then to somebody else who has the correct influences and has listened to enough music that they're looking for something more, they might get our band and understand our band."
Exclaim! and Terrorizer both put Jane Doe atop best-of-the-year lists (beginning a streak of topping Exclaim! lists every year they release an LP), while other publications praise it retroactively: Decibel will put it in the top spot of their 2010 list "Top 100 Greatest Metal Albums of the Decade"; it's number five on MetalSucks' 2009 "21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century…So Far"; and Rolling Stone slots it at number 61 on their "100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time" list in 2017.
The week of Jane Doe's September release, Ballou is laid off from his job as a biomedical engineer. He decides to make Converge and his burgeoning recording business his full attention, using a severance package to bring it to the next level.
Aaron Dalbec is largely absent from Jane Doe, as he's focused on his band Bane. His last show with the band is the album release for Jane Doe on September 8, part of Skatefest 2001. They contemplate replacing him, but shows as a four-piece convince the band they don't need to, something Newton reflects on via Decibel. "I remember when Ben joined the band and we started touring as a four-piece, Kurt said, 'This is the definitive lineup of this band. If anything changes, it's over.' And we all immediately said that he was right. We knew even back then.'
Bannon's Supermachiner project releases their debut LP, Rise of the Great Machine (reissued in 2009 with a bonus disc of B-sides). The project began as a collection of four-track recordings in 1994 and was revived with Ryan Parker of Daltonic in 1998, with Seth Bannon and Ballou joining as contributors, and the latter as producer. Lyrically it focuses on Bannon's "feelings on the rise of technology and death of the individual," and musically has more in common with Swans and Bauhaus than Converge, though Jane Doe's title track and "Phoenix In Flight" began here and were later adopted by the main project.
Newton also releases two albums with Old Man Gloom, a sludgy post-metal project with Aaron Turner of Isis, Caleb Scofield of Cave In and drummer Santos Montano; Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism and Seminar III: Zozobra are both released via Tortuga Recordings. Bannon's April-announced project Urtica's Oblivion Sessions won't be released, despite a slated fall release.
2002 to 2003
On a European tour, Ballou breaks his hand while goofing off at Nate Newton's birthday. (While riding a merch bag like a toboggan, his fingers get caught in the fabric; he breaks his hand when it comes to a sudden halt. Newton swears that Ballou's feet touch the back of his head when it happens.) The band carry on with a shortened set. Ballou plays guitar with two fingers, though the intro to "The Saddest Day" requires additional help; a member of tour mates Paint the Town Red kneel near Ballou and press out-of-reach frets for him. The incident prompt's reactions, delivered via Decibel, from the birthday boy ("Holy shit, Kurt's a badass") and Koller (calling Ballou "one of the dumbest smart guys I know") before joking the guitarist actually played better.
They cancel some tour dates to allow Ballou's hand to heal. Their first-ever arena dates take place at BeastFeast 2, just outside of Tokyo. A subsequent show at Gainesvillefest 2002 in December gets cut short when violence breaks out between attendees and security, whom Bannon reveals were wielding two-by-fours. The debacle is available online thanks to an infamous video, with viewers speculating that Newton wacked someone over the hand with his bass, though he actually took it to someone's arms to loosen their grip on another. Reflecting on the incident, Bannon says, "I looked over and see blood shooting everywhere and just a bunch of crazy stuff happening, and I just see Kurt just calmly packing his stuff up."
Bannon announces his project, the Blood of Thine Enemies, in December, with two albums — Death and Love — set to release the following year, though they never materialize.
In 2003, the vocalist releases a demo called "Grant Me the Strength" under the name Dear Lover. That same year, Converge release some rarities and unreleased songs as Unloved and Weeded Out, which shares a name with their second-ever seven-inch. They also release the DVD The Long Road Home, which compiles fan footage as well as full live sets and music videos. Kurt Ballou opens the current location of GodCity Studios in Salem, MA, where he'll go on to work with many high-profile names in the metal/hardcore realm.
2004 to 2005
Converge sign with Epitaph Records. "They had a lot of respect for our independence and our really unique character," Bannon will tell Noisey. "They knew we were our own thing, and they respect that. And they always have." Equal Vision isn't happy with the decision, thinking they were owed one more album, while the band insists the label treated the re-release of Petitioning the Empty Sky as such, thus fulfilling their contract. Reddy says via email, "I was hurt when they went to Epitaph because I thought we had really come through on every aspect of Jane Doe, but it is what it is."
The band come up with a title for Jane Doe's followup before it's written and recorded: You Fail Me. It comes from the lack of closure Bannon feels from the recording, release and touring behind Jane Doe. He had expected healing, a metaphorical weight off his shoulders, which prompted a lot of self-reflection.
"I had to start looking at myself and really do a lot of internal thinking and a lot of soul searching, and trying to figure out why I am just so uncomfortable, where I should feel some sort of comfort," Bannon will tell Terrorizer in 2004. "After doing a lot of soul searching, I was still having a lot of issues, and I started getting more angry. I started thinking of everybody in my life that was failing me at that point. I started thinking about failure, and I started thinking about how people were failing me, and how much I was failing myself, and looking at loved ones and friends and family and seeing so much failure: letting themselves down, letting other ones down, letting weaknesses shine through and be the norm as opposed to the exception. I was writing a lot in my book at the time, and one day I wrote just a phrase, 'You fail me' over and over again, like a mantra, and it just kinda stuck with me, and that's essentially what became the foundation of this album. The songs are about failure and about resilience, and about becoming that. They're about the people who survived."
Upon being floated the idea for the title, Newton reveals to Decibel his initial response: "Holy shit, that's fucking hard. I love it."
Recording begins at GodCity in March 2004. Newton describes the process to Aversion.com: "It was the smoothest recording we've done yet. We all live close to the studio, so we could just pop in and pop out." Of the album title, he says, "It's meant to be the royal 'you.' It's about looking around, about seeing how people fail you and themselves, about realizing how you fail yourself by not living to your potential."
Newton will tell Decibel that he wanted to "do a record that is more of an experiment of minimalism," as opposed to something "crazy and intense," a "Jane Doe Part II." To those lumping them in with the flavour du jour, the bassist offers: "No, fuck you man — that's not what we are at all. We're a punk band. We're a punk band that listens to metal. We're not a metal band trying to be punk."
Unfortunately, their growth sometimes went over fans' heads, with some likening the title track, which they'd been playing live for quite some time, to Korn. Comically, the song — described to Decibel as an industrial-esque piece by Ballou and as "this monotonous kind of Godflesh-meets-Sonic Youth sort of dirge" by Newton — was difficult for the band to pull off initially; the slower tempos requiring entirely different movements than the speedier muscle memory they'd built up.
The album is filled with other instances of bucking habits, either the band's or the recording world at large. The album kicks off with a slow-burning guitar-only intro ("First Light") and its followup, "Last Light," includes glockenspiel. Another pairing, "In Her Shadows" and "In Her Blood," expand further: the former includes the album's sole guest, studio neighbour Shawn Mosely on his grand piano, adding in layers of "various junky pianos and toy pianos and organs and stuff like that"; the latter takes what Newton tells Decibel is "a really stupid tuning" and plays off the Melvins. Tuning experiments extend to "Wolves at My Door," which copies the unorthodox tuning of emo band the Promise Ring and, in doing so, sounds out-of-place enough to be relegated to a B-side.
Though recording goes fairly smoothly, mixing is a nightmare for Matthew Ellard, this time only helping with mixing after his much larger role recording Jane Doe. Constant power outages result in him having to mix the whole album in about three days.
You Fail Me becomes their first record to chart, peaking at 171 on Billboard. It was also their first release under the still-going partnership of Epitaph and Deathwish, who handle the vinyl portion. Exclaim! names it the best metal album of the year, stating: "The juggernaut known as Converge have always been miles ahead of everyone in the underground, but You Fail Me is the riskiest and most rewarding venture for the long-running underground stalwarts."
A tour for the album features support from Cave In and Between the Buried and Me. A collaborative studio project with the former is announced and becomes known as Verge-In.
Newton's Old Man Gloom release the Christmas LP and he forms a more rock-based side project, Doomriders; debut LP Black Thunder comes out via Deathwish the next year, as does a split with Coliseum. They'll go on to release splits with Boris, Disfear and Sweet Cobra. A September Converge show with Doomriders is recorded and released for free online as the second segment of the "Deathwish Live Series." Just two months earlier, Lambgoat announce that Ben Koller has been filling in for Cave In, with whom he plays until their late 2006 hiatus.
Converge spend the bulk of 2005 on the road, including a Canadian run for the "Exclaim! Aggressive Tendencies Tour 2005," with Terror, Cursed and Mare as support. Unfortunately, being on the road has its hazards. Newton describes one incident from a show in Leipzig, Germany to The Boston Phoenix: "Kurt got a little overzealous with his guitar and decided to throw it behind him, not realizing Jake was standing there. I heard a loud 'bonk,' and then I saw Jake lying on the stage with blood all over his face. Six stitches later, we were back on the road the next day. We've all been to the hospital numerous times for this band."
Petitioning the Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing are both re-mastered and re-envisioned with new artwork from Aaron Turner and a bonus track, each. They come out on CD via Equal Vision in March before a Deathwish vinyl release in 2006 as Petitioning Forever.
Converge head back to GodCity; for the first time, Ballou handles all aspects of recording, including engineering and mixing. He'll describe their goals to Decibel, explaining, "This record, more than anything, is just trying to capture the way we sound playing together in a room. That was the goal. There was really not a lot of production going on. There's less reading between the lines. There's just no fucking around at all: It's just go-for-the-throat right from the get-go."
Bannon takes a fresh lyrical approach to the record; in an interview with Revolver, he explains that fixing up his recently-purchased house — which he clarifies is a "crackhouse" (to combat holier-than-thou punk purists who'd decry him for being what they call "wealthy") and he is still picking needles out of the yard — had led him to be around more "ordinary people" than he had in years. "I was talking to a friend of mine, and he pointed out that a lot of the lyrical content, more so than on any other records we've done, is focused around the idea of 'we' and 'our, as opposed to 'I,'" he explains. "That really sums up my perspective in writing this record. It's hard to explain without sounding like I'm preaching, but basically this album is about personal responsibility and also about maturing. Not, like, 'growing up' in a shitty way, where you start being condescending to people. It's about personal respect and respect for the struggles of those around you — not just people in the subculture we all live in, but also the ordinary people out there, the people I'd categorize as the 'everyman.' I can see a lot of their struggles in myself and vice versa. This record is really about cultural breakdown — why all the stuff that I write about, the things that make me angry, is there."
The December 2006 issue of Decibel gets more specific on the lyric topics, such as the "white-hot rage" Bannon felt after a close friend passed ("Hellbound"), what he's given up to pursue art ("Sacrifice"), an unexplained death in his family ("Plagues," which he began writing two years prior when the death actually happened, around the time when the music began gestating in the band's ill-fated collaboration with Cave In, Verge-In), tearing down emotional walls ("Orphaned"), giving into violence ("Versus") and more.
In a 2008 interview with Lambgoat, Bannon recalls the band didn't think Epitaph believed them when they said they were done the album. When asked for a title, they messed with label, informing them it was to be called The Rapist; the fake is inspired by a popular Saturday Night Live sketch. That prompts a serious email from an employee, who tells them they have to run it by marketing due to a concern about retail placement.
The real title, No Heroes, is unveiled on the band's website with a cryptic explanation from Bannon: "These days cowards outnumber the heroes, and the begging souls outweigh the calloused hands of the hardest of workers. Both in life and in art, the lack of passion is sickening and the lust for complacency is poisonous. This album is the artistic antithesis of that sinking world, a thorn in the side of their beast. It's for those who move mountains, one day at a time. It's for those who truly understand sacrifice...In our world of enemies, we will walk alone..."
No Heroes is released in October 2006, and reaches 151 on the Billboard album chart.
2007 to 2008
Ballou's noisy '90s punk project the Huguenots, featuring members of Piebald, the Explosion and the Never Never, release their entire discography in 2007 via Hydra Head, including the demo, a seven-inch and their side of a split with Seven Percent Solution.
Bannon announces a side project called Irons at the end of 2007 with artist Stephen Kasner and Dwid Hellion of Integrity, with whom he'd previously worked when Deathwish released the To Die For LP. It will be "a collective effort to create apocalyptic, non-linear music from a primal fine art based mindset." Their sole release will come out in 2011 as a split with Pulling Teeth entitled Grey Savior.
Bannon will finally release "The Blood of Thine Enemies" in 2008 as a stand-alone song, six years after it was announced that would be the name of a project.
A July 2008 update on Lambgoat says Koller will be playing with United Nations, whose debut LP comes out in September on Eyeball Records. The band members are originally all kept anonymous due to contractual obligations, but Koller, in an interview with Sick Drummer magazine, reveals that he played on the album.
After a longer-than-usual break, new album Axe to Fall is announced in August 2009, with the unveiling of new song, "Dark Horse," which showcases a more guitar-driven approach. In an interview with Self-Titled Magazine, Ballou explains that he tries to tailor his writing to his bandmates, causing him to go in a more prog direction to match Koller's taste. Flashy fretboard wizardry drives the album. where Ballou takes his playing up a notch, which is equal parts his choice and a choice made for him.
"Anytime anybody writes a song, that's one less thing that you can do and still be original," the guitarist will tell Decibel in October 2012. "All the heavy riffs that are simple are already taken. So you've gotta find new riffs, and as more of those become taken, there are fewer places to go. And I kinda pride myself on not being a generic songwriter, so playing stuff that's maybe a little more involved than what other people play is one way to keep it more distinctive and original. So, it's a combination of that and the fact that all the easy stuff has already been taken. I'm just kinda forced to play hard stuff now."
In an interview with Exclaim!, Bannon reflects on the band's decision to welcome more collaborations on Axe to Fall. "The most honest way we could approach creating music was to introvert and internalize everything. Outside opinions are appreciated, but it'll never dictate who we are. It hasn't in 20 years. But working with select people on select songs brought in excitement and challenge. It tested us [and] broke our habitual recording process [since] we know our strengths and weaknesses. Working with others changed the chemistry... or else you're doing the same thing. To be successful, it takes a good amount of risk. We're not afraid of that."
The guest performances vary in their levels of collaboration. Three of the songs began in the Verge-In project half-a-decade earlier, with "Effigy" actually featuring tracks that Cave In members Stephen Brodsky, Adam McGrath and J.R. Connors recorded then. Rough mixes of "Wretched World" were given to Genghis Tron when Ballou produced their album in 2007, with the trio tinkering away on it and Bannon later telling Noisey it was "the only song that had a collaborative feel to it." The third Verge-In relic, "Cruel Bloom," is given to Neurosis's Steve Von Till, who tweaks the lyrics and arrangements a bit. Ballou adds a small choir to the final product.
Other guests include Uffe Cederlund (Disfear, ex-Entombed), John Pettibone (Himsa, Undertow), Aimee Argote (Des Ark), Chris Taylor (Pygmy Lush, ex-Pg. 99), "The Rodeo" and Sean Martin (ex-Hatebreed), who had to record his solo with his finger enveloped in superglue after tearing it apart from practicing so hard.
The band work on the album until the very last minute, with Ballou telling Self-Titled Magazine he submitted the finished product at 11:30 p.m. on the final day they could deliver it. It leaks two weeks before its October street date, but still reaches number 74 on Billboard. They tour around the release supporting Dethklok and Mastodon. Apparently the cartoon death metal band want to tour with the Mastodudes so badly that they give them free reign to pick openers.
Newton's Doomriders release second LP Darkness Come Alive. Though Ballou teases a side project with Mike Justian (ex-the Red Chord, Unearth and Trap Them) and Tim Cohen (108), akin to Black Flag, Bad Brains, etc., it never materializes.
2010 to 2011
Converge head into GodCity to track another new song, "On My Shield," which they subsequently self-release as CONCULT01. The seven-inch features a laser etching on the B-side of the band's sun symbol, a logo they explained on an earlier incarnation of their website: "The symbol is a part of an antique medical device used to find imperfections in one's sight. Jake re-rendered the silhouette of the device and today we use the symbol as a visual metaphor. To experience life with a clear and focused perspective."
All Pigs Must Die, Ben Koller's latest band (this one featuring Kevin Baker of the Hope Conspiracy, as well as Matt Woods and Adam Wentworth of Bloodhorse) release their self-titled EP on Nonbeliever, a record label branch of Shirts & Destroy, in October. Their bleak and filthy metal/hardcore hybrid is quite a contrast to Koller and Wentworth's other band, Acid Tiger, who had released their self-titled debut of psychedelic mathy punk in April on Deathwish. Deathwish also release a seven-inch from United Nations, Never Mind the Bombings, Here's Your Six Figures, in June. Although Koller's contribution to it is not confirmed, it seems likely, given the style of play and the fact that a previous Converge statement on the project said UN would be releasing an LP and EP.
Much of the following year is spent writing for a followup LP, though CONCULT02 will also drop in May 2011. The split with Dropdead features a new song from each band, with Converge's entitled "Runaway." Koller's All Pigs Must Die will also unleash God Is War via Southern Lord in August, with a B-side seven-inch coming the following year. Converge announce they've re-signed with Epitaph the same month, "because they are good people."
Old Man Gloom break their silence with No, their first studio release since 2004.
Bannon announces the debut of his Wear Your Wounds project will come via a split with Revelator, a project from Chelsea Wolfe band member Ben Chisholm, which will arrive by the end of the year.
Converge complete the CONCULT trilogy with 03, a split with Napalm Death, set into motion when bassist Shane Embury gets word of their split with Dropdead and asks if they want to collaborate. The end result features two songs from each act, with Converge donating a cover of Entombed's "Wolverine Blues," featuring vocals from Bannon, Ballou and Newton, plus Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, etc.), Kevin Baker (All Pigs Must Die, the Hope Conspiracy, etc.) and Tomas Lindberg (Disfear, At the Gates, etc.). Their other contribution is "No Light Escapes," a song that was written in five minutes by Newton and Koller while Ballou was in the other room on the phone. When the guitarist came back into the room, they told him they had written a song, figured it out playing along and more or less had it nailed out by the third time through. It, as well as the two other CONCULT original songs, are included on a deluxe edition of the album.
Converge announce their LP's title, All We Love We Leave Behind, a phrase that had previously appeared on Converge apparel, a move Bannon lifts from an old Into Another shirt, which featured lyrics on the sleeve from Creepy Eepy that weren't in the accompanying book/sleeve. The title shares a name with a track, which Bannon tells Pitchfork is about the passing of his dog Anna Belle and the fact that he missed a lot of his longtime companion's life while on the road, which really sank in as he held her during her last breaths.
"The song is an open letter to the things that I feel I've left behind in order to pursue an artistic and musical direction in my life. I don't regret the decisions or direction I've chosen, but I feel it's important to be self-aware. That song and this album is part of that process for me."
In an Exclaim! interview, he explains the band members "sacrificed, collectively, normalcy," before revealing, "I give a lot to music; I give a lot to art because it's something I appreciate, something I care about immensely, and it's part of me. But there are also other things in my life and people I care about, things at home I care about ― friends, family ― that developed in a different way because of me giving so much I have to the vision that I have."
Ballou tells Decibel that the new album is "more like a collection of singles than anything we've done before." Bannon delves deeper in our interview, saying, "Sonically, all the songs are really packaged quite nicely. They don't really need to be bookended by other songs to make sense. For example, sometimes when you're listening to a record, you need to hear the songs before and after for a song to make sense in context. Whereas we just wanted to really create powerful, potent songs that didn't need that. You can listen to one song on this record and feel that it has closure and that was something that was interesting to us and something that just kind of came with maturing as songwriters."
"You can take it at face value and enjoy it, but when you really let it sink in is when I think it hits you the hardest," Newton tells Decibel. "I think there are a lot of 'on the surface' tracks on this record that are easily digested and fast, aggressive, and really mean and wild that grab your attention right off the bat. But for me personally, it's the slower, darker, weirder tracks that really get in your head, though they may not have that effect right away on the first listen. The slow-burners, so to speak, are my personal favourites."
The album is released in October and peaks at number 70 on Billboard, though vinyl is delayed thanks to a Beatles box set.
2013 to 2016
The band kick off the year by headlining Decibel's "100th Issue Celebration" show, a set which includes "Locust Reign" (for the first time on this continent since 2008, according to Setlist.fm) and John Baizley's first on-stage performance since his band Baroness's near-fatal accident. He also shares an impassioned speech about his inability to enjoy music post-accident, something that was corrected when he heard the latest Converge LP.
"Thank you for writing music that truly inspires and truly, and I mean this when I say this, that truly rehabilitates, not just offers me a release from aggression and bullshit, but something that helps me look forward to tomorrow when today is as tough as it is."
Converge had previously auctioned off a five-minute Skype conversation with Bannon's hand to raise money for their former tourmates.
A mini-documentary entitled Rungs in a Ladder: Jacob Bannon gives fans more direct insight into the vocalist than his poetic lyrics. It touches on his upbringing, his feelings about himself, his obsession with forward movement and the life-changing broken knee that he suffered as a teenager shortly after starting the band. He also spends part of 2013 in recovery after dealing with burgeoning knee issues caused by the many years of letting everything out on stage.
The band unveils Pound for Pound: The Wolverine Blues Sessions, which featured five different versions of their "Wolverine Blues" cover with different vocals: one per vocalist, with Tompa (Disfear, At the Gates) and Ballou collaborating on the only duet.
A collaboration between Koller and Brodsky receives a name, Mutoid Man, and releases debut EP Helium Head on Magic Bullet Records before the end of the year. LPs Bleeder and War Moans will follow in 2015 and 2017, respectively, via Sargent House. The drummer's All Pigs Must Die also release second LP Nothing Violates This Nature, which will be followed in 2017 by Hostage Animal.
"The Migration," the first Bannon recording under the name Wear Your Wounds, produced in 2001, is unearthed and released online.
Doomriders release third LP Grand Blood in October 2013, a month that ends with the news that Newton joined Cavalera Conspiracy, with Pandemonium dropping the following Halloween. Newton's Old Man Gloom is revived in 2014; they release two albums, The Ape of God I and The Ape of God II, with the band trolling media pre-release via a Frankensteined-together compilation of the two. News of the album being a double-LP only breaks the weekend before release.
A 2010 Converge session at the BBC is finally released as the Live at the BBC seven-inch in March 2014.
Koller joins Killer Be Killed, a supergroup featuring Max Cavalera (Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, ex-Sepultura, ex-Nailbomb), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) and Greg Puciato (the Dillinger Escape Plan).
Converge release a sequel to their 2003 DVD; Thousands of Miles Between Us was first announced in 2007, but comes out in November 2015. The three-disc Blu-ray release includes a surround-sound mixed live set from 2012, plus two discs of bonus content, resulting in around 17 hours of footage. The second and third discs include all their music videos, plus a few interviews and live sets dating back to 2002, including the infamous Hateverge set from 2004 (in which Hatebreed vocalist Jamey Jasta fronts Converge playing Hatebreed songs) and their 2014 set from This Is Hardcore, expertly captured by Hate5Six, mixed by Ballou and mastered by Brad Boatright of Audiosiege. There is also a limited deluxe box set, featuring the first disc on vinyl and much more.
For a European tour in April 2016, they perform special "Blood Moon" sets, in which they reimagine their slower material with guests Chelsea Wolfe, her multi-instrumentalist bandmate Ben Chisholm and Stephen Brodsky, with Steve Von Till of Neurosis joining them at Roadburn Festival. The festival also marks a one-time-only performance of Jane Doe in its entirety, which would be recorded and released as Jane Live the following year. The iconic cover art is reimagined by five artists for different vinyl variants.
You Fail Me: Redux is released in June 2016 — Ballou had long been unhappy with the final mix and master of the original. He explains the idea on the Deathwish Inc. podcast, saying, "My goal in remixing You Fail Me was to retain everything that I thought was great about the original, but then also try to make it fit more linearly between Jane Doe and No Heroes." The art gets a slight rework too, inverting the black background and white hand.
Ballou unveils a new business card; it's a printed circuit board that can be soldered together with around $40 worth of parts to craft a distortion pedal, based loosely on the Providence Stampede pedal, which was used during the You Fail Me and No Heroes eras of Converge.
Bannon's Wear Your Wounds release their sort-of self-titled debut LP, WYW, in April, with 29 song shells massaged into a ten-track album, produced and played on by Ballou, alongside Mike "Gunface" McKenzie (the Red Chord, Stomach Earth, Unraveller), Chris Maggio (Sleigh Bells, Trap Them, Coliseum) and Sean Martin (Hatebreed, Twitching Tongues, Kid Cudi). Just seven weeks later, the project strikes again with Dunedevil, an experiment for which Bannon secluded himself in a cabin for a week, producing a song per day, later to be refined, and a mass amount of mixed media visual art, which would be released as an accompanying nearly-300-page art book.
After the longest break in their 27-year career, Converge tease a new album in July with the release of two-song seven-inch I Can Tell You About Pain, and a new album, The Dusk In Us, due November 3.
The band recorded 18 songs for the 13-track release (a 14th, "Eve," is the B-side to the seven-inch). Ballou tells Exclaim! that members had trouble agreeing on the strongest songs, quipping "I think we're all equally unhappy with what ended up on the album." He also teases a future release of the remaining tracks. "Some of the songs on the album are actually some of the weakest ones that we recorded and some of the ones that aren't on the album that are the strongest we recorded, we're just not exactly sure how we're going to release them yet."
The strange times in which the album was made are complemented in the sometimes-strange musical direction, with Ballou pushing the band in a more mid-paced, noise-rock direction, something that took them out of their comfort zone. Newton's recurrent desire to pursue slower, weirder and moodier stuff is sated with some of their experimentations, and Bannon's clean singing pushes the band's boundaries even further.
Ballou tells Decibel that the delay is due to a lack of inspiration and apathy to the traditional cycles of the industry. Between the four members, they've also had six kids in the past five years, further busying up their lives, which already include other bands.
"I don't think our lives getting more complicated makes our music any less emotional," Ballou says in the same article. "When you start having kids, the realties of living on this planet are clearer. You aren't just dealing with the impending end of the world for yourself but wondering what you brought your child into. How can I be sure that I raise caring, compassionate people?"
The current political climate influenced that fear and what Bannon refers to an overarching emotion of pessimism amongst caring folks, suggesting, "The biggest thing I see is a lack of empathy and compassion in this climate."
Jane Doe (Equal Vision, 2001)
Chronicling the disintegration of vocalist Jacob Bannon's relationship, Jane Doe captures that range of emotions, from panicked anxiety to debilitating depression. It ends with a flickering light at the end of the title track's tunnel, thanks to its mournful yet hopeful climax.
You Fail Me: Redux (Epitaph, 2004/2016)
With the band wanting to avoid a re-tread of musical ground they already walked, they upped the focus on atmosphere and delivered a dense and bleak album. The re-mixed, re-mastered version shines a light on the band's explorations — accentuating them, not washing them out.
No Heroes (Epitaph, 2006)
Converge at their most bludgeoning, No Heroes knocks you to the ground, then kicks you while you're down. Though later albums would venture further into metal via unique catchy-yet-progressive fretboard runs, this is their most direct, allowing ten-minute centerpiece "Grim Heart/Black Rose" to truly soar.