Converge — Jane Doe (2001)

14.05.2002  :: АрхивАрхив рецензий Автор: Andrey Kugaevskiy

If I had to sum up the musical results of the last year, I couldn’t have done it without mentioning the American band Converge and their latest album, «Jane Doe». I’m not too familiar with the band’s earlier stuff (all I’ve heard are split releases with Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Coalesce), so unfortunately, I don’t think I’m authorized to tell you how much have Converge changed since their last two albums. Despite it, I have some «intelligence data» which allows me to state that if you’ve heard «Petitioning The Empty Sky», or «When Forever Comes Crashing», but still haven’t heard «Jane Doe», you’d better be ready for a bit of a change. In comparison with their previous albums, the amount of emo parts on «Jane Doe» quickly approaches the number of platypus living at the North Pole.

Remember my earlier reviews, where I would methodically make fun of another silly album cover, trying to understand why the hell was it daubed at all? Well, the artwork for «Jane Doe» raises absolutely no questions or gripes. Bearing in mind that «Jane Doe» is a conceptual album, I can boldly say that the artwork is a masterpiece, because it perfectly fits the concept and instantly gives the listener an appropriate context. When you see the cover for the first time, you associate it with album title right away, and more or less realize what «Jane Doe» is about. When you finish listening to the CD and try to recover from the emotional shock, you will look at this cover one more time and see what you haven’t noticed, or seen before. This cover is like the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega of one circle, one microuniverse called «Jane Doe». When you walk through this eternal forty five-minute journey and eventually resurface from the abyss of «Jane Doe», you throw one last glance at the cover. You begin to feel that something is missing in your journey. You feel that a finishing touch should be made. Then suddenly, you bear witness to something you couldn’t see or understand before. You are now able to examine the whole picture. At once, you «see the light».

Okay, all extra-musical things aside, let’s speak about the music itself. Many define early Converge as emocore, or a cross between metalcore and emocore. As an answer, I can give a sneer and tell you that the music played by Converge on «Jane Doe» can quite possibly be defined as artcore. Judge for yourselves: Converge are based on metalcore and mathcore, but they mongrelize the mix with thrash, emocore, death, sludge and plain rock. Similar results could’ve been achieved if Today Is The Day had decided to make a project with Slayer, Botch, Kiss It Goodbye and Discordance Axis. Let me put it straight — there’s not much grind in Converge’s music. It’s palpable only from time to time (for example, on the first song), but it’s notable enough to be mentioned among other styles used by the band. The core of Converge’s music is mathmetalcore. I don’t have to tell you about metalcore (as I have already done it in previous reviews), but I think mathcore should be described more specifically.

As you realize, such styles as hardcore and grindcore weren’t originally supposed to have complex, technical (and technically demanding) parts, either rhythm-wise or melody-wise. The main point was expression, not complex riffs or non-traditional rhythm parts. This state of affairs started to change when the straightforward, linear development of these styles had reached a dead-end (by my estimate, it was around mid 90’s), and changing one’s modus operandi wasn’t exactly the answer. The musicians had to dive deeper. It turned out that non-traditional, unusual rhythm parts with peculiar accentuation (which was typical for bands like Watchtower and Confessor), just weren’t used in grindcore and hardcore. Moreover, it was realized that guitars didn’t necessarily have to play in unison, and that there exist greater possibilities than than just chugging away at the proverbial «three chords», or employing drill-picked tremolo. In contrast to the harmonically-precise power chords, there were acutely dissonant harmonies which proved to be novel among hardcore and grind kids. That’s when (and how) mathcore was born — a style developed from grind and hardcore by assimilating and absorbing things which were originally characterized by such individually distinguished bands as VoiVod and Confessor. It’s quite hard to draw a clear line between grind and hardcore in mathcore, so I won’t be dwelling on this subject right now. It’s simply beyond the goals I want to achieve with this brief trip into the history of mathcore.

In the case of Converge, mathcore quite often gives way to plain metalcore and thrash (just listen to the first riff after the intro part of «Bitter And Then Some»!), which actually doesn’t spoil the music even a bit, because all these styles are more or less akin to each other. Furthermore, Converge are very skilled in connecting themes and composing a song from them. This main trinity (mathcore, metalcore and thrash) comprises about 75% of the album. Everything else is filled with emo (and quite strange emo, let me say), extremities (although they often correlate with mathcore) and slow, almost sludgy parts (which, once again, are not at all typical for sludge in terms of melody or harmony). There’s not much emo on «Jane Doe», and what little I can hear seems quite extreme, in the best tradition of Boy Sets Fire. Similarly, there are no straightly «major» parts on «Jane Doe». If you’re one of those people who still can’t recover after listening to Drowningman, you may sleep more securely after listening to this one; all emo here is present only in the form of certain clean-vocal sections which don’t annoy by any means (except probably for «Distance And Meaning», where flirtingly-insidious overtones can be heard). «Hell To Pay» has a lot of clean vocals too — it’s a sludge-rock song with some rather interesting guitar parts. The clean vox on «Phoenix In Flight», however, strike me as rather strange. Finally, a jawdropping chorus is present in the monumental (11 and a half minutes) album-closer, which also happens to be the title track. If you’re wondering what the other instruments sound like, just look at the list of styles I’ve thus far mentioned. I’d say that despite their brilliant playing technique from time to time, the men of Converge don’t overplay. They strike an ideal balance between intense technicality, and more relaxed emotional parts. Each instrument (including the vocals) is perfectly interwoven with the others. One might say that these songs are characterized by the saying «nothing to add, and nothing to subtract».

The only aspect of Converge’s performance on «Jane Doe» that might initially look weak are the vocals. The basic vocal parts consist mainly of screams (which is pretty typical for modern hardcore, metalcore and mathcore), but they dwell exclusively in the high-frequency range. In short, we’re almost talking about black metal here. The vocals are very aggressive and emotional, but they’re so indecipherable and inarticulate, that it’s almost impossible to follow the lyrics, even if you have the lyrics sheet right before you. «How inarticulate are these vocals», you ask? Well, I tend to blow my nose more articulately than Converge’s vocalist is capable of singing! The only other band which which might give Converge a run for their money in this area are the latest Anal Cunt songs (the fast ones, that is). Horrified? Wait, I’m not even finished yet! You see, there’s something interesting going on here: the song lyrics and actual sung text sort of correlate in a… erm… pretty weird way. Thus, listening to «Jane Doe» with the lyrics sheet right in front me is kind of like reading Faulkner’s «The Sound And The Fury» for the first time without returning to any previous (already read) sections. Everything would’ve been fine (and even great) if the vocalist worked on his enunciation a bit, because it’s very hard (read: almost impossible) to tell whether he’s repeating the same line or singing the next one. Add to this slight upset a very compressed sound that barely fits on the CD, and you will understand how difficult it is to be a listener these days.

Nonetheless, I obstinately recommend «Jane Doe» with enthusiasm, but only if you have a lyrics sheet right before your eyes. Smiling? All for nothing. If you, like me, are have a hard time trying to figure out what the hell the vocalist is yelling, just read the lyrics to the song that’s playing and try to understand the meaning. Concurrently, try to delve into the song’s atmosphere. When you acquaint yourself with the lyrics well enough, you might try to figure out what the vocalist is actually doing. Right this moment, I foresee a question: why should you read the lyrics at all when you can just listen to the music? Here’s the answer: to completely embrace «Jane Doe» (and to appreciate its immensity along with the musical ingenuity) you have to study the lyrics and learn what happens when, and what goes after what. The interrelation of this album’s music and lyrics is very important in order to completely understand it. All twelve songs on «Jane Doe» are closely connected with each other. They are parts of one universe… one story, if you will. It’s a story about happiness and freedom, about love and loneliness. Converge have managed to create a stunning work of art that tells of one’s search for happiness and love in this meaningless world, and I’ll be damned if this work of art isn’t pure genius! To express all my thoughts and describe all my feelings about «Jane Doe» is a task which is entirely impossible. This album is (as is any truly ingenious work of art) all-encompassing, psychologically deep, emotional, and polyphonic (not in the musical sense of word, but in a general art-related one). Spending time and effort to create a truly exhaustive description is simply senseless, if not insane. There is no doubt that what we have here is an amazingly inventive piece of aesthetic expression which tells the story of the common man of our era. Life is shown here in all its confusing ambiguity and tragedy. It underlines the loneliness of a man in the modern world. It tells of surrogate happiness with no real cultural or ontological landmarks. This is a place of where tradition, memory, and history are conspicuously absent. This is where one eternally seeks for happiness, yet finds nothing but silent emptiness. Only when you reach the point of full realization, when you feel and understand it all, does everything come into focus. When you hear that all-too-familiar voice of an estranged man, desperately singing his last prayer with the words «I want out» (from the chorus of the contemplative and suicidal monolith of «Jane Doe»), you achieve a moment of clarity. But when your nerves are ultimately shattered by this album’s devastating finish, when all this album’s shortcomings have ceased to be shortcomings, everything falls into place. Be it the overladen emotions of a tortured artist rushing over the edge of the world, or the inarticularity of a vocalist who wishes to reach the hearts and souls of other people… these are musicians who put all their feelings into a singular voice, and forsake words and articulation because the pain is in their hearts. And when everything ends and you slowly and invertebrately sail into the silence surrounding you, it’s best to choke down the lump in your throat, open your eyes and look anew at the world — you might see something you haven’t seen before, and feel what you haven’t felt for so long.

Converge’s «Jane Doe» is a musical masterpiece, thus I see no sense in pondering who’s going to like it and who won’t. If you’ve read the whole review, you already know for yourself whether you will (in reality — whether you can) listen to it. This is the best album of 2001 alongside Neurosis «A Sun That Never Sets». A piece of astute artistry.

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