FOR THE ART STILL LEADING
INAPRIL 2005, ALTERNATIVE PRESS In published “Bringing It Back: AP’s Hardcore Special,” in which Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon commented on the scene and band he’s been in for nearly two-thirds of his life. Hardcore is “the antithesis to all things insincere and disheartening,” he said. “It is music as expression, rather than entertainment. 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.”
These 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. As they release their ninth album,
The Dusk in Us, they’ve maintained their status as innovators without tripping over themselves, a testament to consistent innovation.
1990 to 1993 High school guitarist/bassist Jacob Bannon joins up with guitarist Jeff Feinberg and drummer Damon Bellorado to form a band based on mutual interest in Motörhead and Judas Priest. “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,” Bannon tells Exclaim! now. “It’s really powerful.” They recruit guitarist Kurt Ballou, who’s better than Feinberg, who moves to bass. “Kurt could play scales and stuff,” Bannon says. “He was older than us by a year in school, which at that point feels like he may as well have a moustache and family of four.” Searching for a name “that wasn’t a total hardcore cliché,” they land on Converge.
The band head to West Sound Studio in Londonderry, NH 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 joins the band on guitar, the latter becomes their tour manager and later forms label Deathwish Inc. with Bannon.
Converge release two more demos, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Dog Days in mid-’92 and early 1993, respectively. From the former, “Savior Salvation,” appears on a compilation called In Our Blood, and “I Abstain” and “Yesterday” find homes on later releases, but three songs are lost forever, since no one in the band has a copy.
1994 to 1995 Converge recruit guitarist
Dalbec, which opens new possibilities thanks to his diverse musical interests. 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.
On tour, they meet Nate Newton, who’ll eventually join them on bass, and Banno visits Epitaph Records, with whom Converge will sign a decade later. Seeing punks driving forklifts of Offspring records at Epitaph, 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.
Ballou conceives of GodCity Studio, more hobby than reality. “When I first started, my goal was 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. “That’s why I chose that name.”
Petitioning the Empty Sky is released on Ferret Records, first as a four-song seven-inch, then as an 11-song CD. Three of the songs are from a live radio performance; when 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.”
The CD contains an unlisted cover of Twisted Sister’s “Burn in Hell.” “We always thought that it was super heavy [and] 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.’” The album art features design work by Bannon, which continues to this day. 1997 to 1998
Bassist Jeff Feinberg leaves and is replaced by Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky. In April 1997, Converge 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 shocked by their mass appeal across the entire scene.”
Equal Vision signs Converge in July and reissues Petitioning the Empty Sky before unleashing When Forever Comes Crashing in April 1998. The album marks their only recording with Brodsky on bass, who leaves to focus on Cave In; Jesuit’s Nate Newton replaces him.
1999 to 2000 Drummer Bellorado departs and is replaced by John DiGiorgio; this lineup records six songs for Converge’s side of The Poacher Diaries, a split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed on Relapse Records. DiGiorgio doesn’t last the year; he’s replaced by Ben Koller.
In 2000, Bannon and Tre McCarthy start their label Deathwish Inc. “We created a proband, proactive environment for bands to be treated as they would want to be treated,” Bannon will tell Exclaim! in 2001. 2001
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 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.
Jane Doe is recorded over 13 days, and features a few quirky moments. After originally recording in the studio’s larger room, they’re kicked out when singer-songwriter James Taylor books it. Bannon’s vocals are