The 50 best albums of 2021
It’s here: the Kerrang! verdict on the 50 albums that shaped 2021…
Jacob Bannon is something of a reserved character. An entirely different proposition to the frenzied whirlwind that thrashes around fronting experimental hardcore pioneers Converge every night, the man that sits in the back of the band’s van cuts a quiet, contemplative figure.
It’s the early afternoon, and already today the band have crossed the Canadian border south from Toronto. Jacob has watched as hundreds of miles of the rest stops, motels, and countryside that flank the highways of upstate New York fly by his window on the way to tonight’s show in New Haven, Connecticut. After a typically high-energy performance last night and a brutal 1am bus call, the band are running on minimal sleep, but after almost 30 years of raising hell across the globe, discomfort has become a familiar bedfellow.
As the band enter the final stretch of their journey, Jacob, as ever, has a lot on his mind. Constantly whirring away in his head are a thousand ideas for the endless stream of musical, visual art or writing projects he is working on. At 40 years old, he’s also a family man now, with a wife and two young children back home. But today, for a moment at least, he’s pushing it all aside to focus on Converge.
The band release their ninth full-length, The Dusk In Us, on November 3rd. As well as that, last month, they unleashed their first pieces of new music in five years in the form of the I Can Tell You About Pain EP; two tracks that show off the band’s incredible dexterity.
“It’s all about chemistry,” Jacob says of the decision to let the EP stand alone. His words are precise and considered, showing no sign of fatigue from an all-night drive. “We’ve been working on material for five years and have so much created and documented that it takes a little while to comb through and decide what can stand on its own, and what flows better as a long-playing, fully-functioning album. You need to figure out the best way to put together this artistic puzzle.”
The two puzzle pieces comprising the EP stand in stark contrast to each other. First track I Can Tell You About Pain is a two-minute explosion of kinetic energy, a crash course in the ferocious violence of which the band are masters. The other, Eve, is a doomier affair that showcases their knack for sinister grandiosity to a higher standard than ever before.
It seems obvious that the reason for Converge’s increased proficiency in the latter form would be their recent Blood Moon project. This saw them rescaling existing material to epic new heights, in order to allow room for Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky, Steve Von Till of Neurosis, the inimitable Chelsea Wolfe and her multi-instrumentalist bandmate Steve Chisholm to each add their individual touches of magic. But this isn’t a band that trades in ‘obvious’, and Jacob is quick to bat away that suggestion.
“That whole experiment was about exploring material that already existed and playing it for people in a way we didn’t get a chance to as a four-piece band,” he says. “That project and Converge both exist and they’re both things that we’re working on. Blood Moon is not something that’s over that we’re picking the bones from – far from it, actually.”
Aside from the tantalising suggestion that there’s more to come from the thought-to-be one-off project, Jacob’s words indicate that neither that experiment, nor Eve, are a result of any change in process. Rather, Converge is a process itself. It’s not about perfecting something and moving on; rather, it’s a constant effort to expand their artistic capabilities.
“I don’t think that we’re ever wholly content as artists in anything that we make,” Jacob claims, “but we’re always pushing ourselves to create something that emotionally moves us and connects with us and propels us to a different place. That’s the quest for ‘perfection’ for us – it’s more a quest for progression.”
There is a duality thought to reside in the heart of Converge. Aggression vs. artistry; instinct vs. introspection; the ferocity of Jacob’s live performance vs. the self-confessed introvert sitting here on the bus. But, again, all is not what it may seem on the surface.
“They’re the exact same thing,” Jacob disagrees, denying a need to ever ‘switch’ persona. “People look at aggression as being thoughtless, that it doesn’t have a purpose, or is volume for volume’s sake, but there’s a lot of intention in what we do.
“I’m the same complex person as anybody else. Somebody might get an impression of who I am through art or an hour of stage performance, but they tend to only be looking at a small picture of my life, and it’s not meant to be any more than that.”
Blood Moon Live At Roadburn 2016
THE VAN is rolling through Converge’s home state of Massachusetts, the place where it all began when Jacob and guitarist Kurt Ballou formed the band in 1990. On the opposite side of the state, in the town of Beverly, lies Jacob’s sanctum; his Deathwish Inc. office where he works as the co-founder of one of heavy music’s most respected independent labels.
Jacob is an enigma; creatively hyper-expressive and regarded as an icon, yet to figure him out completely is a challenge. Asked about his artistic endeavours, he’ll talk passionately and at length about his various artistic ideas and processes. He’s effortlessly profound and utterly captivating all the while, too – even if it is almost impossible to keep up with all the brilliant tangents on which he takes you as his mind races ahead of his mouth. Yet that brief reference to his wife is one of very few he makes to his personal life in well over an hour of conversation. Through that tiny window lies a glimpse at what propels the man, aside from a restless urge to create.
As well as trying to sate an ever-burning desire to make art, Jacob now must strive to be “a present partner, father, and part of the family unit”. It’s a tough balancing act, but Jacob is adamant that he has it under control.
“Having a family is an all-encompassing priority,” he admits. “But I still have a restlessness within me. It just means that when I’m in a creative mode, I’m hyper-focused.
“If I was overly cautious about what I release into the world, that’d be one thing, but I’m addicted to forward movement. Finish one thing, move onto the next. That helps with scheduling and making sure I’m finishing things while being the best, most present father I can be.”
That need for momentum is the very thing that allows him to excel as a visual artist, writer, musician, and father at the same time. It’s something Jacob claims was instilled in him during adolescence.
In the Rungs In A Ladder documentary (below), he suggests that he may not have been pushed towards art and creativity if he’d experienced “a well-adjusted, suburban upbringing… with a basic nuclear family.” And while he isn’t keen to expand on that, he does acknowledge that his ‘addiction’ isn’t without reason.
“Every creative person is trying to put together some sort of puzzle piece that will fit whatever is missing inside them,” Jacob reasons, noticeably refusing to refer directly to himself. “That’s what all this is. And being aware of that doesn’t mean you can necessarily repair those things. It’s an interesting place to be.
“I wrote a line on [the inner sleeve inlay of 2009 album] Axe To Fall: ‘We may get better, but we may not get well.’ You may develop a sense of self-awareness and be able to work on things, but we’re still always working to try and formulate those pieces that are missing and find other things that can fit in their place.”
Jacob is unwilling to reveal the findings of his soul-searching, but his outlook is a positive one.
“All it did was give me the tools to be a creative person. I see it as just being the thing that gave me the keys to a platform to express myself about other things as well. A lot of it is masked or artistically protected in metaphor…”
He pauses. “But that’s what art is, right?”
Rungs In A Ladder, Jacob Bannon Of Converge
AS THE van finally pulls up to the venue and the rest of the band head inside, Jacob remains seated; conversation has circled back to the present and future of Converge.
The Dusk In Us might be the band’s first album in five years, since 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind, but the members of Converge have been far from dormant, even aside from the work that went into Blood Moon and live performances of seminal 2001 album Jane Doe. Jacob has released two albums this year as Wear Your Wounds; drummer Ben Koller has been kept busy by both his Mutoid Man and All Pigs Must Die projects; bassist Nate Newton has been active with Old Man Gloom, and Kurt has become one of the most sought-after producers in heavy music. This is a group of people equally as talented and driven as Jacob.
“Rust never gets a chance to build up,” he says, thankful for his band’s prolific nature. “That’s the key. So, once we’re in the same room, it moves really quickly.
“That five years went real fast, too. Our lives changed dramatically. When we released the last record, the band had no kids. Five years later, there are six. That’s a dramatic life shift. It’s been unrelenting, but it adds another dynamic to who we are and what we do.”
Before Jacob rejoins his band, a looming question remains. With 27 years now behind them, and with long-standing cohorts The Dillinger Escape Plan calling it a day, does he ever think about the end of Converge?
“No,” Jacob says firmly. He’s a man of unwavering conviction at the worst of times, but his tone is particularly resolute now. “The only thing that will stop us is if one day we looked at everything and said, ‘You know what? I think we’re good.’ If all of a sudden we decided that we were entirely fulfilled.”
Thankfully, that day doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. Now, and for some time yet, Converge will rage purposefully on in the way that only they can.
“The restlessness doesn’t go away,” Jacob concludes. “I’ve had some of the most emotional times of my life recently and music and art are still my primary tools to work through those things.
“We’re still Converge and we’re still giving 190 per cent every time. That isn’t going away yet.”
I CAN TELL YOU ABOUT PAIN EP IS OUT NOW; THE DUSK IN US IS OUT TOMORROW VIA EPITAPH/DEATHWISH.
It’s here: the Kerrang! verdict on the 50 albums that shaped 2021…
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