Saturday, November 21, 2009

#39. Converge - Jane Doe (Equal Vision, 2001)

For an album that's pretty unambiguously defined by its creators as something of a break up album, or at least an album that resulted from the fall out of a break up, Jane Doe feels like anything but something that cliched. It's the distillation of utter devastation into album form, so universal in its projected pain that you could apply it to any sort of loss. I know some people that associate it with 9/11 and the time after that. I know some people who associate with the death of a loved one. I might even know some people who see it as a break up album. I see it as all those at once, and the soundtrack to every slight no matter how minor. It's the purest expression of anguish I've ever heard, and that doesn't even necessarily have to take the lyrics or even Jacob Bannon's vocals into account. Everyone involved in its creation is projecting their deepest pain onto the canvas in front of them, and it's a completely mindblowing thing to witness.

Converge had been good before this, both Petitioning the Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing being among the leading lights in the recently evolved metalcore/mathcore family, but Jane Doe is so far above and beyond them that it's not even funny. It's the greatness that was only ever hinted at on the two previous albums expanded over a full album and then taken into new realms as the band got more adventurous. The final four tracks especially see the band pushing into unexplored territory, starting with the inexplicably weird "Phoenix in Flight" which is at once the most beautiful moment on the album (those soaring guitars!) and the most foreboding. It's not as aggressive as the rest of the album, and it's almost devoid of Bannon's cathartic screaming for its bulk, but it's just as intense in its own way. Then "Phoenix in Flames" rears up to describe it? Ben Koller takes his drum set and proceeds to systematically murder the fucking thing in 20 second bursts while Bannon screams like a man possessed. It's over in 50 seconds but god-DAMN is it intense. "Thaw" might feature Kurt Ballou's best guitar work, especially that wailing riff (you know the one) that reappears as a kind of chorus for the song, and "Jane Doe" takes all the best parts of the 11 tracks before it and merges them into the single best song of Converge's career. In those 4 tracks the album makes the leap from being the best Converge album to being the best metalcore album ever, and the more times I hear that stretch the more convinced I am that no one is ever gonna top it. That's not to say that the first 8 tracks aren't excellent in their own right though. "Hell to Pay" is atypically Jesus Lizard-ish and menacing, "Fault and Fracture" features some stunning guitar runs from Ballou and "Homewrecker" might be the most accessible song in Converge's discography - though it'll still frighten 95% of the general population. Since the album is definitely a cumulative experience they're necessary in order to it's overall impact even if they wind up paling in comparison to the latter tracks, but on their own they still make for one hell of an intense listen.

The intensity mostly comes from Bannon' vocal performance. I can't understand half of what he's saying - even with the lyrics in front of me - but I understand the emotion behind it and that's more than enough. The lyrics themselves read like a more poetic version of your normal break up catharsis, but delivered by Bannon they take on dimensions far beyond that. It's hard to say whether they feel more genuine as delivered in the trademark nigh-on-incomprehensible manner that is pretty much a Converge trademark, but they definitely sound deeper in practice than they do on the page, more intense than they have any right to be thanks to Bannon's blistering performance.

If only Converge had been able to keep this type of thing going for more than the one album. I have nothing against the subsequent releases on one hand, but on the other...they aren't Jane Doe. After the heights of this I doubt anything the band does is gonna have anywhere near the same effect, but at least they got it almost perfectly right here.

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