The times have changed for aggressive music. “Metal” now describes the pubescent yearnings of Underoath, and attending a hardcore show is an experience similar to joining a new gym. “Punk rock,” the term that once meant so much to so many, is now a disposable adjective suited to the likes of Avril Lavigne’s latest video. But regardless of the social climate, bands like Converge have always stood their ground, and they continue to do so.
Since the band’s inception in 1994, the four members of Converge have devoted themselves to pushing the limits of aggressive music without compromising their DIY ideals. In the band’s formative stages, vocalist and band leader Jacob Bannon summed up Converge’s goals saying that “hardcore has to be about more than just Slayer riffs and bad poetry.” Unquestionably, the band has stuck to this: nearly every one of their six proper full-lengths is considered a defining achievement. After a four-year stint on Equal Vision, Converge signed with Epitaph in 2004 and released You Fail Me. A stunning and visceral achievement, You Fail Me broadened the group’s sound even more than its predecessor, 2000’s Jane Doe. With the much larger distribution of Epitaph releases, it also brought them a new audience.
So it couldn’t be a better time to reissue Petitioning the Empty Sky (originally released as a seven-inch on Ferret in 1996 and then as a full-length on Equal Vision in 1997) and When Forever Comes Crashing (originally released on Equal Vision in 1998). With the budget restraints that first limited these releases lifted, the records are able to exist as they were originally intended. Replete with expanded artwork by Jake Bannon, bonus tracks, videos, an essay by Exclaim! Magazine‘s Chris Gramlich, and an astonishing new mix by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, these reissues bring these releases to the staggering quality of the band’s post-millennial work.
Petitioning the Empty Sky, with its attention to thrash riffs and blast beats, was an archetypal achievement in 1997. Recorded with a small budget in an equally small amount of time, the record plays with an urgent fervor that is most exemplified on the opening riffs of “The Saddest Day” and “Forsaken.” Unlike the releases that followed it, tracks such as “Albatross” and “Buried but Breathing” demonstrate moments of youth-crew hardcore. The epic “Farewell Note to This City” works with textures of melody and abrasion that in many ways predict the sonic collages on You Fail Me.
When Forever Comes Crashing, Petitioning the Empty Sky‘s equally lauded follow-up, showed some sonic maturity in the band. Where Petitioning often leaped between old-school hardcore and abrasive metal, Forever demonstrated a more cohesive approach, emphasizing slower, heavier guitar work and varied vocal delivery. “My Unsaid Everything” and “Conduit” are similarly chaotic to heavier tracks from Jane Doe and You Fail Me, whereas “In Harms Way” and “Ten Cents” are surprisingly melodic.
Thanks to Ballou’s brilliant ear, these influential records have been given a much-needed facelift. By strengthening the levels and boosting Bannon’s vocals, Ballou has taken the impact of these records to new heights. The new artwork is vivid and immense, further demonstrating the attention to detail that the band has been known for. These reissues are remarkable achievements that deserve attention from metal enthusiasts and challenge-seeking indie kids alike.