VIDEO: Converge, "No Heroes," live at ICC Church, Allston
Appreciation of Converge is one of those things that comes after you stop trying too hard, like driving stick without stalling at the red lights. The music doesn't offer easy access points — the drums blur impossibly by, the guitars speed past like pissed-off modem signals, and forget about the vocals. Your blender has a more welcoming voice than lead screamer Jake Bannon.
No, you just have to wait till the time is right, because there is a hook in there. The Boston quartet (okay — Salem, Beverly, and Brooklyn at this point) have persisted through two decades of hardcore and metal evolution, ending up a little farther ahead each year. You can attribute that to their virtuoso technicality, their airtight composition, or the general mayhem that erupts at their shows. But the point is, Converge have made a career out of loud, fast, hyper-detailed music delivered with brute force from humble VFW stages and iffy PA systems across the world for going on 20 years. So it's interesting that their latest — Axe To Fall (Epitaph), which drops this Tuesday — pulls back some of the extremes in favor of an almost playful rediscovery of straight-up lasers-and-jean-jackets metal. Which could strike a funny chord for long-time fans.
When I get guitarist Kurt Ballou on the phone to ask about life in arena-rock land, he's wandering the halls of the Seattle Seahawks' Qwest Field, which houses the WaMu Theater, where Converge are about to open for Mastodon and Dethklok. (This bill will hit the House of Blues here in Boston at the end of the month.) The tour is a few steps outside the band's normal comfort zone. Ballou assesses the situation objectively. "Let's put it this way: there are four buses in this tour, and we're still pulling our van up to the stage to load in. Most of the roadies have better travel accommodations than we do."
He continues, "I think we're playing more for Cartoon Network fans than anything else this year," referring to the cartoon-metal heroes of Metalocalypse's Dethklok. "We're getting heckled, and that's fine. I don't want us to become babies that are just used to getting what we want."
As we discuss the band's early days in Boston following a kickstart at Andover High ("Yeah, we played the talent show one year"), it does seem that things have always worked out for them. After years of living in Kenmore Square, Ballou was sent packing from an apartment on Blaine Street in Allston by roommates who were tired of the constant traffic of bands in and out of his basement studio. "Everyone else stayed in the apartment after I left, but three weeks later, the place caught on fire. I would have lost everything in the studio."
Converge's first show at the Middle East in '93 resulted in a rare opening-band encore. "One of the bands canceled, so after the second band played, we set up again and played everything we knew. Nobody complained — there were only seven people there, and they were all our friends."