It’s no secret that a good many of us on the Heavy Blog staff enjoy Converge. Since 1990, these guys have been making some of the best hardcore out there, consistently pushing their genre forward in ways nobody could have imagined. Last Sunday (September 4) marked the fifteenth anniversary of the band’s seminal release Jane Doe; an album that is still regarded today as legendary and incredibly influential on the metalcore/hardcore scene, and I thought it apt to say a few words about this album.
I can still remember to this day the circumstances regarding my first listen of Jane Doe. Sure, I had been interested in what the album represented to the hardcore community—I pretty much drank in everything the Jane Doe Wikipedia page could tell me (because, you know, that’s a great source of information)—but I had never really listened to it beyond a few samples. But all that changed sometime around sophomore year of college, where fellow Heavy Blog writer Scott Murphy and I took yet another trip to our beloved music store, Newbury Comics. We came out with our bank accounts essentially wiped out, and a hefty bag of CDs in hand, with Scott touting Jane Doe.
We were both so psyched to finally listen to this album that we spun it on the ride home while I drove through the back roads New Hampshire in my crappy old Dodge Intrepid.
And…just…wow. The energy was palpable. Of course, hardcore basically relies on energy, but this was different. It was raw and powerful. To be fair, though, I was a dumb kid back then; Jane Doe was “just okay” to me in terms of quality; it couldn’t hold a candle to Trivium‘s Ascendency or some other metalcore act I was really digging at the time. (Again: I was stupid.) While Scott jumped onto the Converge bandwagon relatively quickly, I was a little slow. It really took me until just a few years ago for this album’s beauty (and Converge’s music in general) to really hit me. But when it did, it was like turning on a flashlight in a pitch-black cave.
There’s a lot to say about Jane Doe, from the influence the band subsequently had on other metalcore acts with this album and its sequels to being a milestone in Kurt Ballou’s career as a producer, to the visually chaotic beauty Jacob Bannon brought to the table with the now-iconic Jane Doe album cover. It’s just a monumental album in pretty much every way you could possibly think.
But I personally regard the album as one of the first “awakened” hardcore/metalcore releases; it’s a watershed moment where Converge gained a solid sense of identity and awareness, essentially following their own rules as they made them up, following an artistic vision that went beyond any sort of pretension there was and had ever been regarding hardcore music, and affecting every single facet of the band’s creative output for the better.
When I use a term like “awakened”, it isn’t meant to be sycophantic, or to assume that Converge was/is some sort of snooty band that are somehow “above” all their fellow hardcore artists. (Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what they were thinking exactly when Jane Doe was being made—only the band could definitively say something like that.) Instead, “awakened” or “aware” is, to me, a sort of objective courage and artistic integrity. They don’t care what counts as “hardcore” or not; it’s as if they saw what they wanted to make just sought to make it, with little bullshit in between.
Let’s be fair, though: it’s not like I can read a tattoo on Bannon’s neck that reads “aware” or something; I hear all of this while listening to the album or looking at the cover, at how it’s such a singular piece of hardcore. First off, let’s talk about how the whole album joins together. While it’s a concept album in terms of lyricism, there’s also a great amount of musical cohesion present; each track segues into the next, as if Jane Doe were one long, forty-five-minute suite as opposed to a collection of songs. But despite that homogeneity in the songwriting, there’s a lot of variance to the album on a track-by-track basis. While some tracks sound similar—and let’s face it, it’s true: Converge does have a pretty signature sound at this point—they all have a different flavor. “Concubine” is short, sweet, and raw. “Hell to Pay” feels feverish and confused with Kurt Ballou’s stellar guitar work, and the final track, “Jane Doe,” gives off a sense of sadness, like some wound that will never heal.
Lyrically, Jane Doe is simply poetic. Take the lyrics from one of my favorite tracks, “Phoenix in Flames”: “She burns as bright as the sun / and she falls darker than night / she shines as light as these days / and she fades faster than time.” I won’t even begin to analyze those lyrics, as I think that the ambiguous and personal nature of the lyrics is what makes them so appealing, but on an aesthetic basis alone, they’re gorgeous. You’d be hard pressed to hear such lyrics in a lot of hardcore before this.
And that’s sort of the point I’m trying to make—there’s a lot of this album, and of Converge in general, that doesn’t really line up to the stereotypical vision of hardcore. Converge could’ve gone all machismo and played beatdown hardcore a la Hatebreed, but it wasn’t who they were. They wore their hearts on their sleeve here, and their integrity towards their own music opened a door for an innumerable amount of bands to bring more into their own art form. Of course, Converge isn’t the only band to open this door—Refused’s Shape of Punk To Come and others helped with some much-needed musical experimentation—but when it comes down to bringing together raw emotion and music, there is only one Converge and only one Jane Doe.