Converge are one of those bands that enjoy a virtually unanimous acclaim in the spheres of heavy music – even if you don’t like their music all that much, chances are that you still respect them for the impact they’ve left on the scene as a whole, be it as a unit or as individual musicians and producers. Their 2001 release Jane Doe could be pinpointed as the exact moment in time they achieved this position. Going beyond the hardcore roots they displayed over their three previous releases and experimenting in several different directions with it, they cemented their place as one of the century’s early trailblazers in metal.
As you can probably tell from this introduction, Jane Doe has already had its fair share of fanfare and spotlight time in the past, and yet it would be unwise to leave it at that. So, in order to celebrate this record and its towering achievements once more, I’ve compiled the thoughts of my dear colleagues Inter, Joe, Jake, and Gary to help illustrate how much this record means to so many people out there.
There are very few albums that hit me as immediately as Converge’s Jane Doe. I would love to be able to say that I sat waiting outside my local music shop on the day of release, waiting for the doors to open so that I could pick up a copy and run home to blast it. I didn’t; instead I was stuck in my Nirvana/Blink 182/Jimmy Eat World phase, unaware of the masterpiece that was being released. Fast forward another couple of years on the bus with a friend on the way to a teenage part-time job, when he passed me his earphones and told me to listen carefully.
To this day, the brutal, frantic opening of “Concubine” has the ability to transport me back to that first listen as a spotty teenager on that bus. Jacob Bannon’s tortured screams were unlike anything I’d heard up to that point. Although I didn’t have a clue what he was saying, it seemed to mean just about everything to him. When I eventually managed to get hold of the lyrics, it was the complete opposite of the doom and gloom I was expecting.
‘Dear, I’ll stay gold just to keep these pasts at bay
To keep the loneliest of nights from claiming you
And to keep these longest of days from waking you
For I felt the greatest of winters coming
And I saw you as seasons shifting from blue to grey
That’s where the coldest of these days await me
And distance lays her heavy head beside me
There I’ll stay gold, forever gold’
The 40-ish minutes that follow only serve to increase the intensity, a brutal assault of gritty vocals and screaming syncopated guitars that opened a whole new world to me. The contrast of the bleak and the beautiful was wholly unexpected – lyrics filled with hopeful, positive messages against a bleak, angry backdrop. It took me further down the rabbit hole on a path of discovery that brought me some of my favourite bands to this day (I think I bought The Bled’s Pass The Flask within days).
Jane Doe has found itself a cult following over the years, the album artwork now iconic (and finding its way onto many fans skin). Albums with such reputation can sometimes become outdated, repetitive and a victim of its own success. Most of the time, it is probably the nostalgia that sets the album apart 20 years after release, and I’m fine with that. For me, Converge and Jane Doe in particular will always remind me of simpler times, when a walkman and a set of earphones could change your musical outlook forever.
Growing up in metalcore’s commercial heyday, I never really knew much about the genre’s hardcore punk and math-inspired roots. That was until a friend introduced me to the utter chaotic world of Converge and of course the band’s magnum opus: Jane Doe, a record immersed in the totality of chaos. These metalcore pioneers truly shed a light on how complex and musically challenging metallic hardcore could be. From the volatile, dissonant riffs, the agonisingly powerful vocals, and equally agonising and poetic lyricism, Jane Doe is an album that not only became one of the best records of its era, but also a stand-alone classic within the metalcore genre.
From the opening track, hearing that eerie dissonant guitar riff open on “Concubine” and the wailing vocals which proceed with piercing quality, the whole thing just hits you in the face from start to finish. The almost violent, climactic run of jarring chord sequences at first were a little too much to handle for someone unfamiliar with this harmonically subversive territory of metalcore; nevertheless, it didn’t take long until I was totally immersed in this discordant and harsh sonic place that Converge had produced.
The lyrical themes on this record also deserve a high amount of praise and recognition which stand out from the music in its own accord. Vocalist Jacob Bannon emphasises some of the most heart-wrenching, excruciating, and enraged words of poetic genius in some cases borrowing from the language of those early emotive hardcore bands of the mid-90s. For me what stood out was the lyrics on the album’s sixth track “The Broken Vow”: ‘The sleep that fled me and the heart I lost/It all reminds me just how callous/And heartless the true cowards are/And I write this for the loveless/And for the risks we take/I’ll take my love to the grave’. You can really get a sense of Bannon’s emotional state at the time of writing this album, and it reaches a new level of poetic lyricism that would later be emulated by many metalcore bands that followed.
Despite always having had that soft spot for metalcore’s more melodic side (as many other 16-year-old metalheads did), part of what attracted me to this album in the first place was that it showed me just how open and diverse this genre really is, outside of that pop-oriented direction that seemed to be metalcore’s trajectory back in the early 2010s. Jane Doe is an integral part to the development of metalcore, mathcore, and post-hardcore, and Converge have since cemented a legacy for themselves within the broader scope of metal and hardcore music.
So, we are here talking about Jane Doe, the infamous fourth studio album by legendary hardcore/mathcore outfit Converge. Released roughly 20 yeares ago –
‘In the company of thieves, liars, beggers and whores’
Woah. Where did this come from? I was telling you a bit about the album, and out of nowhere, there came this line. Weird. Jane Doe was the first album to feature Nate Newton and Ben Koller, and the last one with Aaron Dalbec, who is primarily known as the founder and guitarist of hardcore outfit Bane. Jane Doe definitely marks a turning point for the Salem-based band – formerly first and foremost an oustanding and well-received hardcore act, Jane Doe introduced a new take on the band’s sound, be it the meaty, gritty and twisty poduction or the more experimental influences, obvious in songs like “Hell To Pay” and –
‘Let him soar, let him ride as budding gravestones do
Just sleep, girl, just dream well‘
– the title track “Jane Doe”. Wait, what? This weird thing just happened again. I was just writing about the new takes on their style Converge tried with Jane Doe, establishing a bold and compelling approach to their sound which would shape them for the things to come. Staying true to their hardcore roots was never in question, but sparking the dynamic this quintet had resulted in a wild mash-up of styles, which they somehow managed to pour into a cohesive vision of chaos and raw energy, led by a charismatic, self-strangling, and jangling poet in the form of Jacob Bannon. Guitarist Kurt Ballou gave the first glimpse of his producer magic, which would influence (directly and indirectly) a whole generation of artists throughout various –
‘Three simple words bled me dry
Three simple word bled us dry, bled us dry
I love you‘
– for fuck’s sake, I was trying to say ‘generations’, but this keeps bugging me. Does this have anything to do with the fact that I’m listening to Jane Doe while writing those words, as I always do when I participate in A Scene In Retrospect? Well, maybe. At the end, what this album primarily does is reminding me how thrilling, exhilarating, and inspiring it is to experience those songs in the midst of sweaty, equally ecstatic crowd, in front of the band that we love so dearly, and that gave us such a milestone of heavy, poetical and revolutionary music with Jane Doe. Alright, I give in, let me scream at the walls of my living room to unleash my inner phoenix. I’m ready.
‘Lost in you like saturday nights
Searching the streets with bedroom eyes
Just dying to be saved
Run on girl, run on‘
Twenty years. Damn, I feel old now. Thankfully listening to Jane Doe allows me to feel young when it slams its way into my ear holes. Imagining the world of heavy music without Converge’s masterpiece is something that I can’t quite do, not only because of its lauded place in the annals of metalcore or metallic hardcore or whatever we’re calling what Converge does this week, but also because it showed me what you could do with that level of aggression, and that songwriting is by far the most important part of any musical act, regardless of genre.
Every time I listen to this record, I’m still amazed at the level of intricacy in the compositions and how well the album is paced. It will absolutely grind you into powder with intensity, but there are moments within the tracks – and within the flow of the album – that loosen their grip and allow you to breathe. The respite offered by “Hell to Pay” is a rest area for which I am always thankful before being thrust back into the thick of it with “Homewrecker.” This of course is just a single example of why this album was such a groundbreaking experience when Jane Doe was unleashed on the public all those years ago and why it’s still a monolith to this day. The intensity, the raw fury, the unbridled chaos, all of which were singularly focused into forty-five minutes of despair, beauty, and catharsis.
While Jane Doe is best consumed as an entire entity, as the theme of the record itself is, in a way, the expulsion of past feelings and moving through the turmoil of a relationship deteriorating and ending. Only consuming part of it isn’t the entire picture, but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t love specific moments more than others. “Thaw” oozes and lurches in a way that is seldom heard in a setting such as this, where the riffs and the atmosphere merge into a memorable experience worth the price of admission; the breakdowns in “Bitter and Then Some” fulfill the promise of the hardcore influces but still tells the tale in a way that’s unique; “Heaven in Her Arms” is a remorseful track that finds energy and life through bouncing riffs and Ben Koller’s magnificent drumming steals the show.
Converge are a band that have never made a bad album. Hell, they’ve never made an album that’s less than great. Jane Doe, however, is their masterpiece, and even though they’ve evolved and drawn on different influences over the years, this record is their legacy and few bands have a better one.