Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.
Separating an album from its legacy is even more difficult in hardcore, where artwork ironed onto the backs of hoodies is often as crucial and permanent a representation of a path of life as the tattoos underneath. Loyal and resolute, hardcore fans devoutly cherish the albums upon which the genre—and its subtle mutations—were built. But often, those in the trenches keep the best perspective. One such spokesperson is Converge frontman and founding member Jacob Bannon, who describes the band’s 2001 watermark Jane Doe as: “At the time it was simply another album for us.”
Now almost 15 years since the release of Jane Doe—it dropped exactly one week prior to to the September 11 attacks—the album is getting an in-its-entirety treatment on April 14 as part of Tilberg’s heavy-music festival Roadburn (the band will also form its “Blood Moon” collective with Chelsea Wolfe, Stephen Brodsky, Steve Von Till, and Ben Chisholm for a separate set two days later). Frequently artists are resigned to work the full-album circuit because they’ve failed to achieve much of anything past their seminal record, or the money grab to play their decade-old cuts is too tempting (reunions of original-run shoegaze bands have certainly been on the uptick). But Bannon maintains, “I never want to exploit a moment in time. I see a lot of bands do anniversary sets and sometimes it’s special, and other times it comes off as exploitative. It’s all about perspective.”
With juggernauts Petitioning The Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing, Converge was well established in the metal world prior to Jane Doe, and it has only flourished since, signing with indie conglomerate Epitaph and releasing records like You Fail Me and Axe To Fall to nearly as much acclaim. The ceremony of playing Jane Doe, however, has nudged the members to reflect on its landmark status—and figure out how to play an album with three different tunings straight through. The four band members universally agree that Jane Doe represented a distinct turning point in the band’s creative mission, thanks at least in part to the addition of drummer Ben Koller and the formation of what later became the conclusive Converge lineup.
“We were beginning to find our collective character a bit more,” Bannon says. “You have to remember, we were teenagers when we started the band, and quite literally matured and grew creatively within it. When Ben joined in 2000, it helped ground us a bit.”
“I knew Jane Doe was something different,” guitarist and founding member Kurt Ballou acknowledges. “We had a higher budget and recorded it differently. We bounced around: recorded it in three studios, mixed it in two. We picked at it piecemeal. It was our first album with Ben and he helped propel us forward, because now we had more of an aggressive, driven rhythm section. And we came up with a new language in which to write.”
Koller elaborates, “I joined when I was 19 and fresh out of high school, so I was pretty intimidated by these seasoned older guys. I went from the kid in the front row in the crowd to being in the band—it was a real Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star type thing. I was a young spazzy guy, and I think my playing style allowed for the band to explore directions they maybe wanted to go in but never could before. I’ve always just tried to do my own weird thing.”
Opener “Concubine,” though a frantic, fuck-all, blastbeat-ridden scourge, and its successor “Fault And Fracture,” a track that breaks into a monstrous all-hands-on-deck drumming pile drive following a short guitar-only interlude, are miraculously kept in a precise, straight line by the young Koller, simplifying the band’s multi-chaptered technical epics of previous records. His inclusion gave way to a more holistic approach that focused on thematically building a track from its front to its back, rather than piecing—and occasionally forcing—together a puzzle of gnarly, devastating riffs and stop-on-dime rhythms. The other Converge members enthuse that Koller’s addition made the band feel realized, and the confidence attained from his inclusion—as well as artistic growth—gave the band carte blanche to fudge with the template of what hardcore meant at the time. They aimed to break the mold a bit, or at least crack it.
“I remember all of us wanting to write a hardcore record the kids were going to hate,” explains bassist Nate Newton, who had recorded on the splits The Poacher Diaries (1999) and Deeper The Wound (2001), but was still pretty new to the band. “I remember Jane Doe not being liked right off the bat, it being very polarizing.”
“When you look at hardcore as a whole, Converge was more metal and convoluted before the Jane Doe era,” Ballou says. “Musically and lineup-wise it was the starting point for everything that would follow. In terms of the growth of the band non-musically, it was huge. So many bands were finding their voices at that particular time, and the community we were playing to was evolving.”
Jane Doe is more an intricately dark album than a forcefully angry one. A great deal of the ’90s metallic-hardcore scene that Converge was born into—from the path laid out by early Revelation tickets like Bold, Judge, and Chain Of Strength to the detour taken by a Victory roster that included Earth Crisis, Hatebreed, and Strife—relied on chug-chuggin’ ham-fisted breakdowns and a kind of militant aggression that could land a spin kick upside your head if you weren’t at attention. But by the end of the decade, the latter aggro formula had grown tired and plenty predictable—edging a little too close to nu metal. Alongside bands like Botch and Coalesce, Converge and its attack felt much more plotted and complex, as the payoff was less about anticipated, compressed breakdowns than the entireties of the tracks themselves.
“Coming out of that early-’90s straight-edge, metallic-hardcore scene… none of us had related to it,” Newton remembers. “We were really lucky because we were there for the rebirth of the Hydrahead scene and what sprung from the Deadguys and the Kiss It Goodbyes. In my memory, for a long time metallic hardcore was all one road, and right around the time Jane Doe came, it split.”
Ballou reminisces about the band’s infancy: “Metal, hardcore, and punk have always taken turns influencing one another. In the ’90s there was a struggle between hardcore and metal. The crossover stuff in the ’80s was successful, but not in the ’90s, except for a band like Rorschach. By the time we got to the 2000s, we had found our way.”
Jane Doe’s “Thaw”—a track Newton describes as “a bit of a mindfuck”—downshifts from thrashing, full-bore rhythms to allow in sky-scraping Ballou guitar screams that swan dive into hellish, stomping riffs. Those rapid transformations take place in the span of about a minute, but feel interlocked in a way that stacks tension, until the crescendo arrives at the end, acting less like a cathartic release than a point on which to focus your rage. “Thaw” is a chapter rather than a series of footnotes—it flails forward in a cohesive frenetic unison—and its contribution to the whole seems far from arbitrary.
Jane Doe’s most straightforward cut, “Homewrecker,” acts as the axis on which the album rotates. Its steady furor echoes an old-school power-chord punk mentality that’s satisfied with keeping its mix of piss and vinegar pure and potent. Aside from the little space given over to Koller to show his chops, “Homewrecker” is a yardstick-thick concrete wall of nonstop loud, one that Bannon tries to scream directly through in a futile, albeit lawless way. “Homewrecker” feels like a re-imagining of what the band can and will do and just how it plans to pull it off sans compromises.
While the majority of Jane Doe has been played live over the years—according to Koller only “Phoenix In Flight” and “Phoenix In Flames” haven’t been noodled through on stage since the recording—the album’s imagery, designed by Bannon, has also remained a lasting icon and a bridge back to a bygone era of hardcore. The near-silhouette of the foreboding female presence, eyes closed, has long been the band’s unofficial avatar, and a reminder of the impact of Jane Doe, as it reaches canonical status with every re-listen of its grand closing title-track dirge. On that 11-plus-minute finale, Bannon sounds more tortured and forsaken than anywhere else on the record, in part because his obscured vocals are given room to slink and writhe, as opposed to being swallowed within the mix. The misery in “Jane Doe” has become inextricably tied to the image on the album’s cover.
“My life was dark at the time and creating the album gave me something to focus on,” Bannon explains. “Everything I put into it personally was a reflection of me. I can say that about all music I’ve been involved in—it’s all personal, and I’m working through complex emotions within it.”
Koller adds, “Jane holds up because it’s powerful not only musically, but visually and lyrically. When I’d go pre-internet record shopping, I used to sometimes buy records strictly based on the record cover. It probably would have been one I bought on sight.”
Since the album’s release in 2001, the band has pieced together set lists with at least a Jane Doe track here and maybe one there—selecting from years of material—which may make the idea of playing in full what now resembles a time capsule a little counterintuitive to the band members. Ballou points out that the sequencing of the album became an important element to its construction, as incorporating different sounds and tunings helped the band in avoiding similarities from song to song like a lot of its contemporaries.
Hearing it in its totality will likely be a pretty special occurrence for Ballou, who runs GodCity Studio in his down time from Converge. “The same harmonic flow keeps a lot of heavy music sounding like riff soup after a while. And because the recording and mixing processes were so fragmented, we didn’t know if we had a cohesive album until we mastered it. Jane Doe is the first Converge record that I’m pretty proud of front to back.”
For Bannon, reconnecting with lyrics written during a specific era in his mid-20s—grim lyrics about heartbreak and loss—might feel a bit more acute once the narrative is bestowed again as a whole, rather than in fragments over a monthlong string of tour dates. “It’s different for sure. A lot of playing live is muscle memory. You find yourself ripped back into that time and place. Working through things, getting lost in themes in your head. And in some cases applying new emotion and life experiences to old words and music.” As Bannon drives to continue to move Converge forward, he acknowledges that the album doesn’t—and shouldn’t—encapsulate a band that hasn’t relented since Jane Doe’s release in 2001: “There were albums before and after that have done the same.”
Still, the effect of Jane Doe on Converge can not be overstated. “Aside from people liking [Jane Doe], I feel lucky that it opened the door for us to do whatever the fuck we wanted,” Newton concludes. “If we had been conservative it would have pigeonholed us, and I don’t think we would’ve lasted.”