There is a place where discordant notes collide in fitful harmonies; where tempos and time signatures shift like windblown sands, and where tormented howls echo from every shadow. That place, my friends, is The Mathcorner – and together we shall plumb its caliginous depths.
Last time, we began our exploration of mathcore’s roots by taking a look back at the genre’s invention and admiring the lasting greatness of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity. These next couple of volumes, we will be taking a tour through some of the music that formed mathcore’s foundation, beginning with everyone’s favorite Massachusetts hardcore punks, Converge.
Formed in 1990, Converge has been playing relentlessly aggressive hardcore for over two decades, releasing eight studio albums and earning a position as one of extreme music’s most respected and influential bands. In their extensive discography, two albums are of particular note to the mathcore aficionado: When Forever Comes Crashing and Jane Doe. Coming over a year before Calculating Infinity, 1998’s When Forever Comes Crashing saw the band further refine their style of metal-inflected hardcore, taking both the anger and technicality on display in previous albums to vertigo-inducing heights.
With 2001’s Jane Doe, Converge set a new standard for metallic hardcore, with a record that is as smart and technical as it is straightforward and vitriolic. It is a masterpiece of pissed off music, a sonic tableau of rage and suffering. For many fans, Jane Doe is the quintessential Converge album, with even the haunting cover art coming to function as some form of visual synecdoche for the band itself.
Converge is metallic hardcore’s sullen straight-edge kid, brooding by himself at a table in the corner of the cafeteria, writing dark poetry about the horrors of modern life in a sticker-festooned notebook. Propelled by the dissolution of a romantic relationship, vocalist Jacob Bannon’s tortured shrieks burst with melancholic fury, translating the heartache detailed in his painfully personal lyrics. Converge is an intense band that makes intense music. There is an edge to their material, an electrical charge crackling with the negative energy born of bitter experience. This is art as confrontation – the band leaves no neutral ground. Jane Doe is noisy, bleak, and exhausting; to listen to it is to be fed ego-first through an emotional meat grinder.
A couple of cafeteria tables over from Converge is Botch, metallic hardcore’s artsy nerd, passionately arguing the finer points of distinction between Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, before nipping off to smoke a joint behind the gymnasium. Being a lover of the Tacoma quartet feels less like fandom than it does membership to an elite club, with adherents more likely to share a knowing nod than an enthusiastic high-five. Their music is suffused with an air of intellectual rigor absent from most contemporaneous hardcore, locating Botch as something of a thinking man’s hardcore band.
Whereas Converge forged a brand of highly abrasive, technical metallic hardcore, Botch cultivated a style of experimental, off-kilter metallic hardcore, helping to bring a certain spastic, grab bag weirdness to what would be eventually codified as mathcore. Their dedication to merging highbrow artistry with nobrow extremity became one of mathcore’s central tenets; their influence on the style is so extensive that Botch straddles the line between proto-mathcore and mathcore, being both an essential precursor to and a venerated member of the genre.
Unlike the prolific and still extant Converge, Botch’s run was short, but sweet. With an oeuvre consisting only of two full-lengths and several splits, EPs, and compilations, Botch still manages to be one of the bands most crucial to the mathcore’s development. Their first studio album, American Nervoso, established the band’s scattershot style, injecting virulent strains of metallic aggression into jangling hardcore, resulting in songs that are by turns technical, groovy, and experimental, all played with a caustic fervency that makes even simple passages quaver with life.
We Are the Romans, the band’s second and final record, refines and expands upon the sound of American Nervoso, resulting in a metallic hardcore masterpiece that has since inspired countless bands to mix some mathy angles into their punk songs. It is a towering monument of brainy hardcore – a landmark effort that secures Botch’s place as one of the most striking and significant bands in the recent history of extreme music. This time around, the riffs are bigger and badder, the experimentation weirder, and the song names longer than ever. At the center of it all is a punishing record that demands analysis and rewards repeated spins.
Botch’s sound is so distinct as to be unmistakable; shades of this visionary troupe haunt the catalogs of many a chaotic hardcore and mathcore band. A band can hardly toss an off-time signature into a discordant hardcore song these days without being bombarded with allegations of “Botch worship”. Even popular metalcore acts Every Time I Die and Norma Jean struggled to overcome such accusations, which plagued both bands’ early releases. The outsized influence of Botch’s short discography is a testament to the band’s brilliant originality, casting a shadow over a wide swath of progressively-minded hardcore.
Tensions between band members eventually tore the band apart, its members going on to form such bands as Narrows, Minus the Bear, and These Arms Are Snakes. Prospects for a Botch reunion are nonexistent. Perhaps not all bands are destined for longevity. Listening to Botch’s final release, an engaging little EP by the name of An Anthology of Dead Ends, I cannot help but recall a moment from Romeo and Juliet’s second act, when the fatherly Friar Lawrence’s offers the titular son of Montague some cautionary council about the the destructive nature of passion, “These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, / Which, as they kiss, consume”. Botch swung for the fences and saved nothing for the morrow.
Next time, we’ll continue this foray into 90s metallic hardcore by surveying a few of the other bands that helped create the mold for mathcore. Until then, here’s some more Botch: