Published Dec 01, 2004Jacob Bannon has "a million things to do today," but since he's a man who thoroughly enjoys his work, this is far from a complaint. And really, who wouldn't enjoy what Bannon does? Leading hardcore metal gods Converge, running his label Deathwish, Inc., and creating striking visual artwork it's not exactly shucking shellfish.
Like any artist, Bannon's existence is one bent on expressing his creative vision, and with a worldwide audience hailing Converge (rounded out by guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller) as the best aggressive music has to offer, it comes as no shock the man has little time to kick back. The fact that the band's latest opus, the deeply pummelling You Fail Me, is being hailed as the year's best aggressive album, in one of the most outstanding years this music has seen, is certainly no small factor in Bannon's busy life.
"It's definitely been quite a year for [hardcore and metal]," says Bannon in his hushed and articulate demeanour. "We've had the Dillinger [Escape Plan] record, the Mastodon record, some people would say our album. A slew of stuff came out that really moved people and raised the bar, and it's a necessary thing that needs to happen. More often than not things become stagnant and tired, and it's really good to see artists coming out with [meaningful] records that have been in the making for quite some time."
Remarkably, this year has witnessed the break-through of a hefty number of underground hardcore and metal acts, notably without any aid from the mainstream press. There was Breather Resist's unexpected signing to emo-friendly Jade Tree label, Lamb of God's enormous Ashes of the Wake release on major label Epic, the Dillinger Escape Plan's anticipated Miss Machine album, the Blood Brothers' Crimes on V2 and the break-through of groups like Every Time I Die.
And that's not all. "The new Mastodon record was great. That's probably the only album I listened to consistently, just because these days I don't listen to all that much aggressive stuff all the time, especially things that are hardcore-rooted, because a lot of it I find fairly mediocre," confides Bannon. "But there is some stuff that came out that's really interesting. The Pig Destroyer album [Terrifyer, on Relapse] was really interesting. The new Terror album [One With the Underdogs, on Trustkill] was a great album as well. Both of those albums I thought were really killer. So yeah, this year was definitely a year that was stronger than most."
Residing peacefully at the top of the heap is Converge's You Fail Me, a watershed effort from a band that continues to place increased emphasis on craft and creative depth with every release, each earning them more devoted fans than the last. You Fail Me, potentially the band's biggest yet, is their first to be released by enormous indie label Epitaph. But although the underground continues to rise both in sales and stature, Converge aren't concerned with appealing to any ideal of the mainstream record-buying public. In fact, Bannon freely speaks out against such base ideas.
"A lot of bands are willing and able to make ethical compromises to put themselves in positions where they have higher visibility and notoriety. We're one of the bands that do not play that game. We have no aspirations of being a glorified rock band. We don't want to make our band a career move. We look at it as an artistic outlet rather than say, a vehicle to pay rent or to further our lives in some way. And that outlook is what sets us, as well as a variety of other bands, apart from the rest of the pack."
Such awareness for Converge and many of the bands currently making waves in the underground is a large part of what guarantees their artistic relevance and what has driven the underground's expanding popularity. It's also living proof that having your band's collective heads and hearts in the right places is far more beneficial than catering to target markets and pining for multi-figure contracts, dangers that become far more real as metal and hardcore's flirtation with the mainstream continues.
"It's not a major label interest thing. I think that's what people tend to see the battle as," asserts Bannon. "It's a much bigger thing. It has everything to do with touring, who you tour with, how you tour, how you perceive your band, and how you want your band's character to be marketed, because everything has to be marketed that's sold in some way. It's about taking responsibility for that, making sure people don't sell your shit short. A lot of bands sacrifice their own integrity for a shot at the limelight and most of it's fictitious. That's the really sad, shitty part about it. You have all these bands jockeying for a position to be the next big thing yet that big thing doesn't exist, it's a completely fictitious world that's been created by other bands to fill their own false goals of success. That's just not the world that we operate in. If you want to break it down, there are people that are doing it for the right reasons and there are people that are doing it for the wrong reasons, regardless of labels, sub-genre, major label or independent affiliation, and the key is to stay on the right side of the fence because that's where your longevity and your integrity are."
As more and more bands realise the proverbial pie in the sky becoming the next Metallica or Nirvana is little more than a pipe dream, the underground army of vehemently independent metal and hardcore bands grows. But some people just can't shake the rock star dream that's instilled in them, especially with the taste of success many are currently experiencing.
"I've seen a lot of bands coming out now talking about markets and SoundScans and being successful in that world rather than saying, Hey, we made a really powerful record that we're really excited about.' To me, that's the one aspect to everything that's been lost by many bands, and that's a really tragic thing. Sure, that stuff will always matter in some way, it has to; technically it is a business, things have to get made and sold, but you can do that and have a conscience, and not sell yourself short. I think a lot of bands sacrifice too much of themselves to be successful, but you give them just a handful of years and they'll be gone. But that's their world to choose."
Converge have chosen the real world, dire political situations and all, which is, in itself, directly correlated to the reason why an increasing number of people are turning to hardcore and metal as their music of choice, as evidenced by the methodical but undeniable growth of the underground in the last number of years. And, given the state of the world and its currently grim forecast, aggressive music's popularity will only continue to spread. "Aggressive music is there as an outlet," Bannon says. "The more for lack of better terminology fucked up the world gets, the bigger place aggressive music is going to have in it as an outlet."