Converge @ Nile Theater| 10/30/12
By Mike Bogumill
When trying to describe to people unfamiliar with Converge what kind of event I went to last night, I was hesitant to use a phrase like "metal show" or "hardcore show". While metal and hardcore certainly influence all the bands that performed, none of them have a particularly overt allegiance to any scene or subculture, although they may certainly appeal to their roots when the need to prove credibility arises. In truth, I went to a "heavy music" show featuring bands that occupy the liminal spaces between all the nerdy subgenres of punk and metal, liberally borrowing from them and celebrating their history, while at the same time appealing to people outside the diehard fanbases.
See also: Converge @ Nile Theater (Slideshow)
The headlining band, Converge took the stage and opened with "Concubine", just as intense of an opening track live as it was on 2001's Jane Doe. The energy was intense from both the band and the audience throughout the first few songs, but it slowed down quickly on the audience side of things. This revealed one of my main criticisms of the kind of heavy and chaotic hardcore that Converge has influenced, all the dynamism of weird time signatures and quiet and loud parts is easy to lose patience with when the songs go over three minutes. Converge got wise to this in their career and most of their later material is much more succinct, but they still play some lengthy jams that audiences can't always keep up with. The members of Converge however, have no problem keeping up with their own material live. They seem to be on some great cardio regimen, but also influenced by the power of positive thinking as exhibited by singer Jake Bannon's focus in his stage banter on "reversing the cycle of abuse and repression," and "leaving as little damage behind me". Oddly enough, a mic was broken during the course of the set.
The audience eventually got its wind back and moshed and stage dove to the rest of the set as I felt overwhelmed by the melange of influences found in Converge's music. It was certainly high energy, but there were too many points where I was thinking to myself "Oh, there's a stoner riff. Oh, that part's so metal. Oh, look at that blast beat." The complexity of Converge, the myriad reference points to the annals of heavy music, the thing that draws such large and diverse crowds to their shows is what slightly repels me. I drift much more to their straightforward songs such as the thrashy, Discharge-influenced track "No Light Escapes" on their split with Napalm Death, or the wonderfully moshy "Empty on the Inside" from their recent All We Love We Leave Behind LP. They played both and it made me think that I would have liked Converge better had they played a 15 minute set like other "weird' hardcore bands that play shows at houses and storage units. But, again, I was not at a hardcore show, but a heavy music show.
Converge is the Jay Z of heavy music. Guitarist Kurt Ballou produced the recent Kvelertalk and Torche albums among many other releases. Jake Bannon runs Deathwish Inc, a record label with an impressive roster of hardcore and metal acts. The band has done splits with Napalm Death, Agorophobic Nosebleed, and other notably aggressive bands. They have persisted in staying relevant in the eyes of purists while at the same time expanding their fanbase. Like Jay Z, they have proved many times that they run this game. But, just as Jay Z's immense fame and crossover appeal makes me yearn for the simplicity of up-and-coming MCs, Converge's presence on the stage of heavy music makes me yearn for the simplicity, as well as intimacy and sense of community, of a hardcore or metal show.
I had some apprehension about the local opener, Your Young. I had listened to one of their songs on Bandcamp and was somewhat put off by the clean singing vocals that interrupted an otherwise screamed, yelled, and grunted hardcore song. I was also worried that three guitarists would mean that their music would devolve quickly into mid- 2000s metalcore in the vein of Poison the Well and Atreyu. Thankfully, neither of these problems manifested itself in the live performance. Your Young plays a style of hardcore that seems like the product of the aughts, seemingly informed simultaneously by bands like Touche Amore, La Dispute, Thrice, Brand New, and even the metalcore bands I mentioned.
It's not my thing, but they do it proficiently and tastefully. There were no weird mosh-calls or excessive open E breakdowns, and the clean singing sounded much more natural in the live setting, compared to the almost autotuned timbre found on the recording I listened to. Despite being young in comparison to the veteran musicians in the other bands playing that night, they played with a sense of confidence and professionalism that didn't make them seem like an awkward fit on the bill at all.
The first touring band of the night, Norway's own Kvelertalk, may have stolen the show. Meaning "stranglehold" in Norwegian, Kvelertak plays music that combines the melodies of Scandinavian black metal with the country twang of Pantera and the driving urgency of power chord-centric garage rock like The Stooges (or, if we want to find an analogue in Kvelertak's corner of the world, The Hives). Basically, they shred like Norwegians but rock like Americans.
The way in which they captivated the audience fascinated me. They are a band that has no lyrics in English and writes songs with titles like "Blodtørst" and "Mjød", yet a large section of the audience was singing along because they had either learned the lyrics or were just vibing off of the energy of the delivery. I felt an incredible urge to throw up the horns and pushpit after the lead singer introduced a song by proclaiming "Kvelertak just want you to know..." followed by something in Norwegian that I didn't understand, but thought sounded brutal. Plenty of other people felt that urge and acted upon it as soon as the band kicked in. Kvelertak proved to be an outrageously fun band and possibly a good gateway to Scandinavian metal, which is oftentimes more outrageous than it is fun.
Following Kvelertak was Torche, a band that I want to like but can't bring myself to. The Miami based quartet play a variant of stoner metal that is much more bright and major key oriented than pioneers of the genre such as Kyuss and Sleep. The bass tone felt completely appropriate for this genre, deep and so heavy with vibrations that I thought I was going to accidentally pocket dial someone from my position in the front. The guitars got appropriately warm and fuzzy, and the sense of melody is welcome in a genre that normally feels very brutish and tribal. However, I just don't know where Torche takes me. I certainly didn't go to the "weed filled land" or wherever the hell those beings on the cover of Sleep's Dopesmoker are going. Right now, I am syncing Torche's "Kicking" from their recent release Harmonicraft to one of those Kate Bush directed Fruitopia commercials from the '90s. It's making a lot of sense, but Torche didn't bring me to Fruitopia in their performance. I felt kind of bored, and most of the room looked the same. However, their finale, which involved an excessive amount of delay and feedback, was one of the standout points in which they were able to create a sonic landscape on par with a good noise performance.
Lost in Translation: During Kvelertak's soundcheck, one of the roadies was relaying directions in Norwegian over the soundbooth PA. If you closed your eyes, it felt like being in a foreign airport.
Devil's Night: Seeing a person dressed as a Hershey's Kiss stage dive to Converge evoked some symbolism I can't quite grasp.
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Conservation Frustration: I don't understand when members of bands use complimentary bottled water for purposes outside of drinking. Jake from Converge poured the entire contents of a bottle on himself, and the other members seemed to be using it like mouthwash at certain points. I'm sure Mantooth, the promoters, don't care about this in the long run, but it's really bizarre etiquette to me.