Which are your favourite Converge songs?
Working alphabetically, each week The Monolith staff vote for their favourite iconic bands, and once a winner has been chosen, the experts go to task on voting for the top ten songs for your enjoyment and discourse. This week: Massachusettsian hardcore punk legends Converge!
With twenty-three years of experience in their field at this point, Salem natives Converge are without a doubt one of the greats of the hardcore genre. Mixing the punk ethos and mentality with the big riffs of metal, they’ve clawed their way to the head of the game – but they’re still going; trying to outdo themselves at every turn. It’s this dedication to their craft, even with some of them in their late thirties, that marks them as one of the greats, and more than deserving of their time in the spotlight.
Even their early work as teenagers was precocious; showing promise where most musical endeavours of their age would be covering Black Sabbath – and terribly at that (although they do admit being “hardcore kids with left-over Slayer riffs”). Albums like Petitioning The Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing in the mid-late nineties solidified their cred as a solid band – but they brought in the new millenium as a force to be reckoned with, expanding their sound with each new album that followed.
They are recognisable thanks to the almost immediately recognisable tone and style of founding – and only – guitarist Kurt Ballou, the complex, polyrhythmic drumming of Ben Koller, and of course the harsh, rasping vocals of tattooed frontman Jacob Bannon; barely understandable but full of emotion and conviction.
Halo In A Haystack (1994)
Unloved And Weeded Out (1995)
Petitioning The Empty Sky (1996)
Among The Dead We Pray For Light split w/ Coalesce (1997)
When Forever Comes Crashing (1998)
Y2K EP (1999)
The Poacher Diaries split w/ Agoraphobic Nosebleed (1999)
Deeper The Wound w/ Hellchild (2001)
Jane Doe (2001)
You Fail Me (2004)
No Heroes (2006)
Axe To Fall (2009)
Converge/Dropdead w/ Dropdead (2011)
Converge/Napalm Death w/ Napalm Death (2012)
All We Love We Leave Behind (2012)
10. “Hell To Pay” – Jane Doe
Unlike the tumultuous assault that characterizes many of the songs on Jane Doe, “Hell To Pay” is a relative slow-burner; its central groove and surprisingly simple structure provide a sharp contrast with the unbridled aggression of its counterparts. Beyond its value as a rest from the breakneck pace of the rest of the album, “Hell To Pay” is an excellent standalone track that demonstrates the depth of Converge’s songwriting. This exquisitely unadorned piece is an example of why this album continues to capture the imagination of so many fans of the genre.
From its opening notes, “Hell To Pay” differentiates itself from much of Jane Doe. Instead of crashing down on the listener from the jump, it begins with nothing but an uncomplicated guitar line. The haunting clean vocals and ethereal lead lend the song an almost dreamlike quality, quivering over the beefy grooves that form the track’s backbone. The band’s flair for dramatic song construction is on full display as the atmospheric build-up gives way to a jangly noise-rock hook before stutter-stepping back into the melodic haze of the verse. While undoubtedly heavy, “Hell To Pay” sees Converge step back from their trademark abrasive catharsis to offer a study in restraint – channelling the rage like a swollen river that somehow never overflows its banks.
9. “My Great Devastator” – The Poacher Diaries
Nestled in between two heavy weight albums – 1998′s When Forever Comes Crashing and 2001′s Jane Doe - Converge, along with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, released a split album, and while Agoraphobic Nosebleed took up nine of the fifteen tracks on the record, the last six by Converge more than made up for the numerical deficiency by being some of the best Converge songs ever written. Although the split contained two of their most well-known and hard-hitting songs – “Locust Reign” and “This Is Mine” – one track in particular always stood out for me more. Whether it’s the rare appearances in live settings, or the sheer heaviness of it from beginning to end, “My Great Devastator” is one of those tracks that contains all the best elements of Converge, and meshes them together into a devastating barrage of chaos.
My friends and I aptly titled this track “the bass test”, for any instance in which someone needed to test the bass on a sound system; the song is that heavy. From the moment the song begins it’s very bass-driven, with a hard-hitting drum pattern that would rattle any speaker – which only increases in depth with the additional interlay between the guitar and bass. Even the vocals of Jacob Bannon are presented in a much lower bellow from his usual manic yells and shouts. There is this overwhelming shroud of uneasiness to song, and as it slowly progresses you can’t help but stay along for the ride. A continuous build up of pace increases until the two minute and forty second mark hits and the song just kicks into high gear, as a rapid double bass explodes alongside spastic shouts and galloping chord work, which commands your head to bang along in conjunction with. Bringing this gnarly track to close, the ending erupts into shouts of “devastator!”, as a final burst of frenzied notes deal one last blow.
8. “My Unsaid Everything” – When Forever Comes Crashing
Early Converge without a doubt is a staple of hardcore/punk-rock music. Their raw, unbridled sound complimented the equally raw and visceral production. Even though both Petitioning The Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing were eventually remastered with better production and more robust clarity, their original feeling remains unscathed. With the release of their third full-length album, When Forever Comes Crashing – the predecessor to the highly acclaimed Jane Doe - it marked the last of a particular sound that many longtime fans are familiar with, and the release of The Poacher Diaries merely bridged the gap from their classic hardcore-punk rooted sound to the more metallic/chaotic-hardcore that we’ve all come to know today. While both eras of Converge are equally awesome, many who are new to the band may miss out on what the band built their foundation on.
This album is gold. Nothing but choice tracks are strewn throughout – but rather than sitting here and dissecting it as a whole, let’s focus on its opener “My Unsaid Everything“. The entirety of this album’s tone and feel stems from this rager of a tune; no intro, lead-ins or build-ups, this song hits hard from the get go, and it does little to let up. The heavy, consistent usage of the drums double bass is the prominent driving force, but they do little in overshadowing any of the other instruments. With no major changes throughout – albeit a few minor moments of higher-pitched wails and whines from Bannon that accompany the music’s few odd tempo-changes – the song remains hard hitting and charges through its three minute and forty-two second run-time in a steady manner. The highlight, though, is the songs outro – a well-placed breakdown is introduced and is nothing short of pummelling. This is the stuff legends are made of, and what many bands wish they could achieve in their songs. I for one will never stop enjoying this song, and if I ever have the opportunity to hear it in a live setting again, well then… I will see you in the pit.
7. “Last Light” – You Fail Me
Converge are master craftsmen of evocative hardcore, experts at balancing tension and release. In spite of its straightforward ferocity, their music is carefully structured — powerful moments woven together — each beat plotted out to dredge up maximal emotion. “Last Light” feels designed to wring every last drop of anguished passion from the listener, ramping up until it reaches its vicious conclusion. It is this attention to detail, this level of deliberate composition, that sets this band apart from so many of their peers; Converge don’t play it safe, they push against the constraints of the form, milking as much raw emotion as possible from a short and simple song.
Every moment of “Last Light” works in service of its finale. Most of the song sounds like an introduction to something, pointing like a compass needle toward an inexorable end; fortunately, it more than delivers on its promise. When the snares begin to pop like machine gun fire and Jacob Bannon screams “This is for the hearts still beating”, the song crescendos into one of the most visceral breakdowns in the metallic hardcore canon. It is the kind of closing that instantly seals a track’s place in the extreme music annals. It is also the kind of closing that provokes instant madness in a live audience, whether that audience is in a bar, club, or bedroom.
6. “Eagles Becomes Vultures” – You Fail Me
“Eagles Become Vultures“, part of the closing act of You Fail Me, goes far to show what makes Converge a truly great hardcore band. In the wake of the slow-burning acoustic track “In Her Shadow“, this song and its twin “Death King” are short, sharp, and packed with flavour – all encapsulated in but two(ish) short minutes.
This brevity is Converge trimming all fat. The pace is immediately set by the blistering drums; Koller is a monster behind his kit, which is actually pretty small – bass, snare, a couple of toms, and about as many cymbals – but that’s all he needs, and it’s a stark contrast to the more ponderous track that precedes it. The main riff is devilishly simple; it’s but two chords, and gallops along, all the while serving to build to the main break of the track – the cataclysmic at passage that starts at 1:19 – during which Bannon howls the track’s title: “our eagles become our vultures“.
The idea behind the track is fairly transparent once you decipher the short lyrics. The titular eagle is obviously a metaphor for the great American bald eagle; the symbol of a nation. The vulture, then, is his perception of what’s happened to said eagles: the strong, independent, and innovatory, become carrion; bloated, fighting amongst themselves, and picking the best from others.