#5: CONVERGE – JANE DOE
We recently polled a wide array of musicians, managers, publicists, label reps, and writers from within the world of metal to find out what they thought the 21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century So Far have been. Eligible albums were released between January 1, 2000 and April 1, 2009. Each panelist turned in a ballot, with their #1 album worth 21 points, their #2 album worth 20 points, and so on and so forth. The ballots are now in and we’ll be counting down one album a day until we reach #1. Today we present the #5 album, coming in with a total of 181 points…
Converge, Jane Doe (Equal Vision Records, 2001)
Jacob Bannon – Vocals
Kurt Ballou – Guitars
Aaron Dalbec – Guitars
Nate Newton – Bass
Ben Koller – Drums
Produced by Matthew Ellard and Kurt Ballou
The still-unmatched excellence of Converge’s 2001 masterpiece Jane Doe (though 2006’s No Heroes came close) was a precursor to where the metal underground would go in the decade that followed it: the unending blurring of the borders between metal, hardcore, and grindcore. But whereas their disciples would rely heavily on irony and weak pop culture references over a carbon copy of Converge’s sound, Jane Doe is still as powerful as it was initially, an unrestrained marriage of savagery and pathos perfectly captured by Matthew Ellard’s and guitarist Kurt Ballou’s top notch production. The album hasn’t been cheapened by the years that followed it; in fact, it’s only grown more potent with time. While they weren’t the first band to weld squirrelly guitar violence, crushing slow parts, and jagged melody, they were one of the first to make it sound important.
The band had hinted at the depth and variety of Jane Doe before: Petitioning the Empty Sky was a meeting of fragile OG-emo singing and chaotic, discordant hardcore, and When Forever Comes Crashing delved deeper into that meeting, with desolate non-metal numbers offsetting the lumbering heaviness of “The High Cost of Playing God”, “Love as Arson”, and “My Unsaid Everything.” But Jane Doe tweaked everything Converge had been doing to perfection, creating an album that was both heavier than their prior output as well as more smoothly constructed. It’s a solid from-front-to-back record that’s simultaneously a plea to the heart and an elbow to the chest. The band went from being a spunky, boisterous hardcore band to a mature, devastating noise collective over the course of one album. The work they’d done before (and after, for that matter) lay in Jane Doe’s long shadow.
From the one-two punch opening of “Concubine” and “”Fault and Fracture” to the almost post-metal closing title track, Jane Doe is a collection of vague emotional textures ranging from wounded animal rawness to malevolent anger, all with graceful transitions between parts. The slow-burning buildups in “Hell to Pay” and “Phoenix in Flight” provide uneasy breathing room between rollicking jaunts to hell like “Heaven in Her Arms” and the ballsy rock ‘n’ roll of “Homewrecker.” The latter sounds almost like a radio single among the aural violence that surrounds it, but it’s still is primo Converge: hairpin turn riffing, Jacob Bannon’s indecipherable vocals, and Ben Koller’s nimble stickwork. But there’s something ominous beneath its surface; whether or not Jane Doe is a concept album is a moot point, because the emotional bleakness that comes to the surface on the closing track runs throughout the album, both lyrically (references to “no love, no hope, nowhere” and “searching the streets with bedroom eyes dying to be saved” shed light on Bannon’s miserable mindset during the album’s conception) and musically. But their trademarks make Jane Doe’s objective cloudy, thus keeping it obscure and avoiding the melodramatic mess that it could have been.
On an album as loud and violent as Jane Doe, it’s biggest successes are subtle: the album is a trip over the charred landscape of the end of a relationship, with the title track’s closing minutes – a build-up that doesn’t actually build up to anything – wordlessly expressing the frustrating pointlessness of it all. There’s a lot one can speculate about Jane Doe, but none of its intent is explicitly stated on the album. The band ask you to draw your own conclusions, which is refreshing considering dumbed down decade that followed it.
Of course, the album could have been marred by lousy production, lost in muddy obscurity or the polished-to-death sonics of the Big Hardcore of the time. Matthew Ellard and Kurt Ballou started a still-going string of perfect-sounding Converge records, with Jane Doe being one of the most accurately sounding albums in metal history: the guitars are big but still dirty and raw, Nate Newton’s bass a filthy undercurrent, Koller’s drums the loud and crisp mortar holding the band together, and Jacob Bannon’s vocals kept democratically low in the mix as not to distract from the rest of the band (eschewing a mistake made on many, many metal and hardcore albums before and after). Jane Doe is Converge fully realized, standing confidently in the clusterfuck of the post-nu metal, dawn of file sharing underground landscape. With hardcore’s condescending preachiness and post-9/11 America’s hatred of subtlety and complexity, the record is a set of questions that the band leaves up to you to answer, whether it be from theorizing what you think Converge’s intent was to applying your own personal tumult and hardship to its open ends. It’s still a breath of fresh air almost ten years after its release, as well as a still-rocky journey through the rough scar tissue of the soul.
THE LIST SO FAR:
THE PANEL OF VOTERS
Chris Adler, Lamb of God
Dan And, Bison B.C.
Ben Apatoff, Apatoff for Destruction/Metal Injection
Jason Bittner, Shadows Fall
Tim Brennan, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment
Freddy Cai, Painkiller Magazine
Ian Christe, Bazillion Points
Reverend David J. Ciancio, Yeah! Management
Betsey Cichoracki, Relapse Records
Paul Conroy, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment
J. Costa, Thy Will Be Done
Dallas Coyle, ex-God Forbid/Coyle Media
Doc Coyle, God Forbid
Anso DF, MetalSucks/Hipsters Out of Metal!
Vince Edwards, Metal Blade Records
Charles Elliott, Abysmal Dawn/Nuclear Blast Records
Brian Fair, Shadows Fall
Leo Ferrante, Warner Music Group
D.X. Ferris, author 33 1/3: Reign in Blood/Freelance Journalist
Mike Gitter, Roadrunner Records
Nick Green, Decibel
Matt Grenier, August Burns Red
Anthony Guzzardo, Earache Records
Kevin Hufnagel, Dysrhythmia
Mark Hunter, Chimaira
Steve Joh, Century Media
EJ Johantgen, Prosthetic Records
Kim Kelly, Metal Injection/Hails & Horns/Freelance Journalist
Josh “The J” Key, Psychostick
Jason Lekberg, Epic Records
Eyal Levi, Daath
Bob Lugowe, Relapse Records
Matt McChesney, The Autumn Offering
Jake McReynolds, Psychostick
Marc Meltzer, The Syndicate
Josh Middleton, Sylosis
Matt Moore, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder
Vince Neilstein, MetalSucks
Sammy O’Hagar, MetalSucks
Anton OyVey, MetalSucks/Bacon Jew
Rob Pasbani, Metal Injection
Alex Preiss, Psychostick
Carlos Ramirez, NoiseCreep/Universal Music Group
Brian Rocha, Fresno Media USA
Jeremy Rosen, Roadrunner Records
Axl Rosenberg, MetalSucks
Satan Rosenbloom, MetalSucks/Cerebral Metalhead
David Bee Roth, MetalSucks
Jason Rudolph, Heavy Hitter, Inc.
Amy Sciarretto, Roadrunner Records/NoiseCreep
Carl Severson, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment
Gary Suarez, MetalSucks/No Yoko No/Brainwashed
Geoff Summers, The End Records/Crustcake
Bram Teitelman, The Syndicate/Metal Insider
Alisha Turull, Heavy Hitter, Inc.
Christopher R. Weingarten, 1000TimesYes/Freelance Journalist