It was October 15th, and Jacob Bannon strode a cramped stage in a smallish rock & roll bar, waiting for the show to begin – and more importantly – for his opportunity to unleash musical hell upon the four hundred or so throat-tattooed onlookers staring him down. This was something he had done a countless number of times before in his life, as lead singer of renowned more-than-hardcore band Converge, pacing back and forth like a captive panther and swinging his rail-thin arms like a flyweight boxer determined to land a first round K.O. Bedecked in a tight, black, long sleeve button-up and equally dark and confining denim pants, Bannon quietly calculated the physical boundaries of his platform for the night, his distances from the sharp cymbals capable of slicing his heavily tattooed flesh, or the necks of guitars waiting to break the thin skin resting on his pale forehead. Then he quietly murmured into his microphone, possibly to the hordes of vehement strangers chomping at the bit for every venomous drop of spittle that cleared his clenched teeth, and possibly to just himself-
“Can we play yet? I’m getting bored.”
It was Jacob Bannon’s thirty-sixth birthday, but he was in no mood to celebrate.
He was in the mood, however, to put on an overwhelming show of heavy metal brutality, putting the structural integrity of the waist high stage to the ultimate test, along with that of his own body and those strangers brave enough to withstand within the enormous pit that enveloped the entire floor of the bar within milliseconds of the first guitar chord being struck. Opening with “Concubine”, the first track from their 2001 breakthrough album, Jane Doe, the quartet furiously tore through a blistering career-spanning set with an unbridled electricity that was less resembled a band of thirty-something musicians than a pack of buzzsaw-wielding mechahyenas with their brain dials set to ‘massacre’.
Thrashing through a set that was heavy on their most recent effort, All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge reinforced to the packed crowd why they are one of the most innovative and dynamic acts in modern heavy music. Even on their eighth studio effort, guitarist/band mastermind Kurt Ballou’s gargantuan compositions are unnerving in their destructive beauty when over-layed by Bannon’s other-worldly guttural growl, a wrenching, emotional noise that seems incapable of emanating from a human larynx.
The group did visit many points in their now historic catalog, reaching all the way back to “My Unsaid Everything” from 1998’s When Forever Comes Crashing, a song that was followed by a crew member presenting Bannon a lit birthday cake, which the singer quickly and casually brushed off in order to continue the onslaught. Newer track “A Glacial Pace”, which in typical Converge fashion moves at anything but, gave way to one of the night’s most powerful moments, a monumental “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast” from their now classic Axe To Fall, an twisted heap of discordant riffs and brain-pulverizing drums that had the crowd reeling, struggling to breathe in the sea of carnage filled by their over-stimulated brethren. From a bird’s eye view in the venue’s balcony, it seemed the attendees could take no more, that their final execution had been delivered for crimes they didn’t know they had committed. The Converge show was half over.
More new songs were unleashed including the devastating “Tender Abuse”, featuring lightning –quick snare rolls from drummer Ben Koller, whose forearms deserve an article all of their own, and “On My Shield”, a recent self-released single from the band that can also be found on the deluxe edition of their latest release. A number of tracks from 2004’s You Fail Me rounded out the second half of the set, including the album’s titular number whose droning chords continued to pummel the delirious congregation whose flailing synched less in time with the music than simply in an unsuccessful attempt to stay alive and retain their sense of awareness. In what could have been an act of pity, or possibly a cruel joke, the band eventually gave in to their own exhaustion and surrendered their instruments, giving respite to the masses and abandoning their respective spots on stage. Or did they?
Alas, the lapse was short-lived and the tireless foursome returned to the stage to unload the 51 second spazz-thrasher “No Light Escapes”, a track which was originally found on their recent split with Napalm Death but which later found itself in the midst of Behind. All material from 2006’s No Heroes had been absent from the set until they unchained “Hellbound”, which is surely how nearly every living being left in the building was feeling about their own physical existence. The one-two punch of “First Light/Last Light” finally concluded a twenty-three song enervating set of stunning technicality, and the Salem, Massachusetts-based weapon packed up their artillery and retreated from the stage, survivors of their own war for one at least one more night, while the crowd were free to scoop up what was left of their brain matter from the grimy club floor and reassemble it into something capable of driving them home.
With their merciless ability to perform at the level they did on this night, more than twenty years into their career, it is hard to imagine Converge laying down their instruments permanently until one or all of them simply drop dead on stage. Maybe not even then.
Written by Alex Mosie
OurVinyl | Contributor
Set-list from the night:
- Dark Horse
- Aimless Arrow
- Bitter and Then Some
- All We Love We Leave Behind
- Sadness Comes Home
- My Unsaid Everything
- A Glacial Pace
- Worms Will Feed / Rats Will Feast
- Tender Abuse
- On My Shield
- Axe to Fall
- Empty on the Inside