Content Warning: Gun Violence
On July 20th, 2012, a lone gunman walked into a showing of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, CO. Upon entering, he detonated tear gas grenades and opened fire with an assortment of firearms into the stunned audience, killing twelve and injuring seventy others. It was, at that moment in time, the most severe mass shooting in the history of the United States. While an obvious national tragedy, it meant more to me than it may have to others. I was born and raised in Aurora, and lived there during the time of the shooting. My parents’ home is a mere five-minute drive from that theater, in which I have seen more films than I can count. I had friends in that theater whom were among the victims. Not two hours before the shooting, I sat with my cursor hovering over the “purchase tickets” button on my computer for that movie at that exact time at Century 16, but decided not to go because I was kind of tired. To this day, I’m still not exactly sure why I didn’t buy that ticket. In a state of shock, I read message after message, text after text, from friends the following morning who were trying to reach me to make sure I was still alive. I didn’t know how to process an event of such magnitude. In many ways I still don’t.
Later in the year, Converge dropped their eighth studio album All We Love We Leave Behind. Converge is the band that introduced me most forcefully to extreme music, and I cannot describe with adequate zeal how much this band means to me. The week of its release, I ran to my favorite record store and grabbed a copy. Unable to wait any longer to hear it, I rushed home and immediately placed it in my CD player and pressed play. The album’s opening track, “Aimless Arrow”, came roaring from my speakers in a torrent of metallic hardcore aggression that is the band’s signature. So far so good. I was content.
Then came the lyrics of the track’s chorus:
“I’m the aimless arrow
Lost from my very start
Violence without purpose
Born of broken hearts
No one will ever guide me
As I sail through the air
Now I just bring sadness
In those who choose to care”
In those lyrics, delivered with passionate, soul-crushing sadness by Jacob Bannon, I was immediately taken back to July 20th. To memories of violence without purpose and the aimless arrow who inflicted it. To the individual who brought so much pain and heartbreak to my community. To my friends. To my home. There in my room, I began to cry. The grief I had suppressed for months came flowing in a raging flood of tears that I could not stop. It was as if Converge frontman Jacob Bannon was singing directly to us, expressing hurt and anger against the monster in the heart of man in a way that seemed to say, “this is real, and we see you.” I don’t remember the rest of my listening experience, only that moment. I don’t need to. It changed me.
Converge have been around for a long time. Their discography is significant in the worlds of metal and hardcore, and their ability to transform pain and sadness into empowering statements of defiance and resolve is unparalleled in the musical worlds they inhabit. Their long-standing incarnation of Bannon’s vocals, Kurt Ballou’s raging guitars and violent production, Nate Newton’s fantastic bass and Ben Koller’s dynamic drum work is one of the best and most consistent in extreme music. They could skate by on pure talent alone, but the band have consistently penned lyrics (courtesy of Bannon) and broached narratives that are as poetic as they are sad and brutal, and as meaningful as they are fatalistic. Converge often shroud these lyrics in Bannon’s well-known, throat-shredding scream and the remainder of the band’s instrumental onslaught. But careful listeners will pick up some of the most poignant lyrics written in the past few decades, many similar in honesty and impact to those mentioned above, making a deep dive into the lyric sheet a necessity for full listening enjoyment. AWLWLB in particular is chock full of some of the most incredible songs in the band’s entire discography. In the raging hardcore extremity of “Trespasses”, the martial tone of “Empty on the Inside”, the appropriately deliberate “Glacial Pace”, or the emotionally devastating title track, the band are in expert and perfect control of their craft. Every performance is excellent, and each song brings something new to the table sonically. Feeling much more a collection of fourteen individual worlds than a singular, cohesive unit, the band present some of the most frenetic and hard-hitting work. A stellar album from start to finish, and one of the best of their career.
But that’s not why I love AWLWLB. The fantastic songwriting and instrumental performances are all special and worthy of commendation in their own right, but Converge has never been about simple technical proficiency and songwriting excellence. Converge use their music as a vehicle to deliver songs of deep sadness and incredible personal and cultural relevance. Bannon’s lyrics in particular bring bracingly honest personal and societal narratives that lift the band’s albums beyond simple extreme music events, but instead to the rarified heights of necessary, truly impactful art. A grieving young man experienced this after one of the greatest tragedies his home had seen and was comforted beyond measure by brutal honesty and, by extension, the hope that through the expression of communal pain there could be some small measure of healing.
I’ve said this many times before, and it bears repeating here: Music is much more than a conflagration of notes on a page, converted by instruments into frequencies that are either pleasing or displeasing to our ears. It is a conduit through which the human soul/spirit/heart/mind can express in sonic form a glimpse into the human condition; our shared triumph and failure, joy and grief, strengths and fears. It is important for our beings to experience art that transforms, comforts, challenges and moves us. Converge are all of those things in one aggressive package for me. I love them with my whole heart, and their work on this record is one of the clearest examples in their entire discography of what makes them so truly unique and influential in the world of extreme music. To Jacob, Kurt, Nate, and Ben, I want to say thank you. Your music brings life to dark situations, and I have experienced hope and healing because it exists.