Converge - Jane Doe (2001)Release ID: 239
My relationship with Converge, and Jane Doe in particular, is...complicated. For starters I didn't hear this album when it was originally released in 2001. My initial exposure was in 2004/5 as I was learning about the metalcore subgenre through bands like Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, and later on, Protest the Hero. I found Converge's music to be very alienating and obtuse, but somehow also completely unmemorable. Which I find odd today since Converge is almost always paired with The Dillinger Escape Plan as champions of mathcore in the 21st century, and I like those guys.
So I went back to this album with relatively fresh ears not too long ago to see if my opinion has changed and whether or not the massive amounts of critical acclaim this album receives is justified. And my findings came back with a resounding...meh. I understand that being in the moment most likely makes an albums cultural impact more significant and I understand if that is the case for Jane Doe, but I still find the record very forgetful.
Let's start off with what really pisses me off: the songwriting. The tunes on this album are composed with very little connectivity, if any at all, and because their are no discernible melodies to latch on to, after a while the songs start to blend together. The very little variation we get from the mathcore formula feel tepid and hardly worth writing home about. What riffs we do get are almost all broken up in the most simplistic mathcore formula you can imagine. I mean some tunes are fine; I genuinely enjoyed "Heaven in Her Arms" as the albums most well thought out piece, "Hell to Pay" also serves as a decent slow down song that attempts to add some melodic phrasing into the mix.
I wish that the mixing didn't sound like liquid ass! This album has a serious problem when it comes to the low end and bass presence throughout the project. I've said it before and I'll say it again: just because you have down-tuned guitars, it doesn't mean you can't have a real bass line. The percussion sounds muddy on the first half of this album, but does make some modest improvements from "Heaven in her Arms" and beyond. The vocals from Jacob Bannon are blown out in the mix to all hell and back. Good luck understanding ANYTHING that is said on this record without a lyric sheet directly in front of you. And that leaves us with just the guitars, which have their moments for sure, but without the aforementioned bass or a decent vocal counterpoint, the guitar riffs just fall flat.
I'm being overly harsh on this record even though I don't think it's completely terrible. There are a couple of stronger moments during the middle portion of this record that save to being at least a passable record. But my criticism is more pronounced since so many people praise this as the crowning achievement in the subgenre, when Dillinger Escape Plan were doing it a lot better at around the same time as Jane Doe was released! The band got significantly better during the 2010s as they began to adapt more post-hardcore sounds into their music, but as it stands, Jane Doe is an album that I may appreciate, but hardly enjoy.
Jane Doe is considered to be Converge's greatest achievement, and that sounds just about right! Everything is in a seamless flow as each band member pours out all their emotion to be able to fuse together this math-metalcore classic album. They have their signature intense screaming vocals, crushing guitar riffs, insane drumming, beautiful undecipherable lyrics, and strongly present killer bass, all put in this perfect cauldron of hardcore metal madness!
If you're not a fan of music this brutal and don't dare to go past that opening paragraph, or in other words, you're like my mother who thinks this is nothing but noise, disagree with me if you want. Converge would still be a jolly good underground metalcore fellow which nobody can deny. What's brilliant about Jane Doe is not only the great tracks but also how they flow into a superb concept album. Is this a concept album? Probably... The lyrics focus on heartbreak and separation, whereas the music pins you to the wall and starts punching you in the head and kicking you in the b*lls until you're bleeding and begging for mercy.
"Concubine" opens the album starts beating you senseless right away. This perfect opener almost counts as an intro due to its one-minute length. It has everything crammed into that minute including memorable brutal riffs, insane drumming, and intense screams by vocalist Jacob Bannon. That's what extreme hardcore is all about! "Fault and Fracture" segues in without skipping a beat, continuing the earth-quaking brutality. If you're unfamiliar with this awesome heavy sh*t, you're gonna get floored hard. While not reaching the extreme level of the "intro", the memorable technical guitars and drums can still cause mass destruction. The drum fills are so fast it's crazy, and the guitars are practically torn apart. Bannon's furious shrieks are still fantastic as h*ll, causing brilliance in the lyrical intricacy. "Distance and Meaning" has an opening dissonant guitar riff before becoming calmer but still ultra-extreme. What I like the best is when the instruments calm down with eerie whispers from Bannon before exploding into feedback fury that can really obliterate your eardrums. "Hell To Pay" is really slow, with the thick bass to help give it a sludgy vibe and a great suiting tone.
Then "Homewrecker" cranks the chaos back to full throttle. It is a definitely a killer standout in everything from the lyrics to the vocals and instruments with higher versatility than bands like Botch. There's some more brilliant guitar work and drumming. The brilliant chorus kick a** with drums, riffs, and vocal howls that can really wreck your home if you play it at full blast. "The Broken Vow" has remarkable lyrics from not just Bannon but also from other hardcore vocalists like Kevin Baker (The Hope Conspiracy), Tre McCarthy (Deathwish Inc.), and Caleb Scofield (Cave In) (RIP), especially during the final screaming line, "I'll take my love to the grave!!" Another short track "Bitter and Then Some" continues the chaotic vocal/riff assault. "Heaven In Her Arms" is another showcase of dangerous high-voltage brutality.
"Phoenix in Flight" continues shaping the album into an absolute classic. The song's "outro", "Phoenix in Flames" is just drums and vocals, allowing Bannon's awesomely demented vocals to really shine. Then it flows to another wonderful gem, "Thaw". You can feel the intense vocal emotion overpower you as he screams over the brutal instrumentation. Saving the absolute best for last, the 11 and a half minute title epic is probably the longest track by Converge. This is Converge's "Shogun"! It is the final piece of this metalcore puzzle that high-school hardcore fans would be blasting through their speakers. This is a brilliant incredible work of emotion! Bannon softly sings "I want out" in the chorus (much softer than Helloween's "I Want Out") to escape this nightmarish chaos. There's even a soloing section! At the 9-minute mark, Bannon screams the final lyrics, "RUN ON, GIRL, RUN ON!!!", as a riff makes an epic layering buildup going on until the fade-out. A terrific ending to a true metalcore closing epic!
So that's it! That's Converge's ultimate masterpiece Jane Doe. I would recommend this to fans of music that is intelligent, emotional, and brutal. You have to make a full listening experience to put it in the best part of your metalcore collection. Jane Doe ain't anonymous no more!
Favorites: Concubine, Fault and Fracture, Homewrecker, Heaven in Her Arms, Thaw, Jane Doe