Converge live review

Gig review of Converge, the original US hardcore band who played the Concorde 2 in Brighton, December 2012.

This month will see the close of what could possibly be the loudest year in the history of Brighton. Earth, Sunn O)))), Melvins, Acid Mother’s Temple… in 2012, if you wanted something a bit more extreme, this was the place to be.

As if to officially mark the passing of the previous 12 months, Saturday-last saw American legends Converge bring their All We Love We Leave Behind tour to the city – heading for the seafront to give the patrons of Concorde 2 enough hardcore action to keep them satisfied until Boxing Day.

One of the things that I always find amazing about Converge is just how – and there’s no kind way of saying this – old they are. Given that they make a noise not unlike the musical equivalent of a train ram-raiding an armaments factory, you could be forgiven for not believing that, eight albums and nearly as many former members down the line, as a band they’re a whopping 22 years of age.

Just as surprising – and pleasing – though is that this longevity is reflected in the musical progression they’ve made over the years since they began. At a time when even supposedly alternative music sometimes seems like an exercise in nostalgia, this band are only getting more fearsome – and also ever-more willing to push the boundaries of a genre they helped set down thirteen-odd years ago with the Jane Doe album.

The band topped a seriously generous bill at Concorde, which also included The Secret, the Neurosis-sounding A Storm of Light, and second wave screamo stalwarts Touché Amore. All solid bands in their own right, with the latter a possible great in the making. It couldn’t have been just this reviewer however that noticed that all three, almost as if by some peculiar feat of punk reverse-engineering, could almost have been said to have represented different individual elements of the headliners’ sound. Or to put it another way, at this point the veteran Salem Mass. four-piece may very well occupy the limit of what is actually possible to do with this particular kind of hardcore/metal hybrid.

For those that don’t know them, what Converge do is pretty extraordinary – deconstructing the harder end of rock ‘n’ roll, Cubist-style, before putting it back together with the absolute precision of math rock, and the breakneck speed and aggression of classic American punk. While the effect is hardly what you’d call easy on the ear, attention is repaid with the ‘good bits’ that exist in all great rock (grooves, hooks, even melodies very occasionally) gradually emerging in the most unexpected places before grabbing the listener even harder on each subsequent listen.

They have a monstrous live reputation, and certainly didn’t disappoint at Concorde 2, galloping through a set taken mainly from All We Love We Leave Behind, as well as previous post-2000 albums such as Axe to Fall.

As with most decent bands, they’re the sum of their parts – the hyper-kinetic Ben Koller’s whirring, stuttering drums; Kurt Ballou’s guitar; bassist Nate Newton’s infernal rumble; Jacob Bannon’s heartfelt, occasionally vaguely inhuman, screech. Nowhere is this better-illustrated than AWLWLB highlight Sadness Comes Home, which pulls off the unusual trick of combining slow, almost funky Rage Against the Machine riffing, ‘80s hair metal-style fretwork and Slayer shredding. On record it provides one of the new album’s more immediate moments. Live however, it showed just what you can do to a crowd when you’ve mastered the art of pulling them back from the abyss before kicking them well and truly over the edge with a deftly-judged change of tempo or four. 
Even more frenetic meanwhile is All We Love’s… opener Aimless Arrow, which this night was performed with if anything, even more venom and purpose than its recorded version. Much more spare than Sadness Comes Home, and also more reliant on more traditional hardcore tropes (eg the Shouty Chorus), if it wasn’t so intent on separating the listener’s head from their shoulders rather than getting them to join in, it could almost be mistaken for an anthem. Needless to say, it tore the roof off.

Converge manage to combine commitment to an old school attitude with an uncanny ability (and more importantly willingness) to keep it modern – two things that put them squarely into the category of Great Band. On this night, they fulfilled their part of the bargain completely, offering us the catharsis you only get from the best rock ‘n’ roll. Encore over, out we filed back out into the cold – energised with ears ringing and noses bloody. Roll on 2013.