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Art As Arson: 20 Years Comes Crashing

converge

Can anyone believe that 1998 was 20 years ago? I can’t. I’ve now reached an age where I vividly remember two decades in the past. This was the year of that shitty Lost in Space remake starring Gretchen Wieners and that one American Godzilla film we all loved as kids but hate now. That really cool The Phantom Menace trailer debuted, too, fooling us all with with its cinematic witchcraft. Cinema pulled several fast ones on us that year, while pop music was amid the septic renaissance of hetero-challenging boy bands and glitter-sharting pop stars. I remember it well, I was sheltered at the impressionable age of 11, denied access to the punk and metal I would smuggle into my house three years later. I look at the year in punk with longing, wishing I could’ve been there to see the metalcore heyday — where Disembodied’s devilish riffs regularly skulked mosh pits and Satisfaction is the Death of Desire was newly forged steel.

Then, there was Converge, good ol’ god-tier, manic, wonderful, hyper-emotive Converge. A five-piece that included Bane’s Aaron Dalbec and Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky alongside founders Jacob Bannon and Kurt Ballou, Converge was on the precipice of the stylistic tectonic shift that would be Jane Doe. But before that genre- and career-defining classic, the Salem quintet released their first (possibly only) bonafide hardcore album: When Forever Comes Crashing. Their first album Halo in a Haystack was a borderless metalcore debut, while Petitioning the Empty Sky was a fruitful compilation. Both contained quality material, yet they left a vacuum in their creator’s discography for a truly name-defining work. When Forever Comes Crashing is arguably the first true Converge album, the first time they threw all their chaotic structure and unhinged sentiment into one cohesive work, all at once — the first time they were Converge with all discordant engines firing.

Free from the post-metal experimenting which would define their post-Jane Doe material, When Forever Comes Crashing is rife with metalcore’s trademark savagery, that unmistakable combination of hardcore’s vitriolic passion with metal’s malleable technicality. The style’s horrible attitude is best sampled in the head-crushing opener “My Unsaid Everything” or the legendary-among-fans breakdown in “Conduit.” This is Converge as pure rage, where even the most forlorn songs, like “In Harms Way” and “Lowest Common Denominator” are homicidal meteor strike after homicidal meteor strike. On the latter, the sole repeating lyric “Everything is not okay” is snarled beneath a weight of abrasion and despondency. It’s a hamfisted approach that hits home, a template that would find further life on their next-meanest album, No Heroes.

“Ten Cents” is a timid gem amid all the bombast, a somewhat successful take on second-wave emo (gasp). The song’s inclusion is surprising but not without context, given how Converge has played with bands like Piebald and Thursday. “Ten Cents” is fragile but possesses its own twinkling elegance that has the misfortune of following the monstrous, frenetic offerings “Towing Jehovah” and the title track, both exemplary, razor-sharp Converge tracks. While this marks “Ten Cents” as the album’s sole potential weak point, it was a glimmer of Converge’s adventurous side which they would explore intimately on later albums.

When Forever Comes Crashing blessed Converge’s live sets with their hardest tracks in the trifecta of “Conduit,” “Letterbomb,” and “Love As Arson.” These define the album and its standing as Converge’s truest hardcore album. “Conduit” hits harder than any hardcore, metalcore, or otherwise song of its day (or maybe any day) with its sustained, panicked breakdown slashing at you like an endless knife attack. Ender “Love As Arson” defined the band’s uplift-from-darkness lyricism, with the gang vocalized “I won’t let this heart stop beating / I will rise again,” affording Converge their own song akin to anthemic classics from the likes of Gorilla Biscuits (“No Reason Why”) and Warzone (“Don’t Forget the Struggle, Don’t Forget the Streets”). Like those tracks did for their respective bands, “Love As Arson” established a coda for Converge, a quintessential track that exemplified the emotional heft that has defined them. Though “Love As Arson” (and much of Converge’s pre-2001 catalog) has been retired from their recent setlists, these songs remain among the most effective of the band’s stirring arsenal, the first ones that stripped the muscles around the human heart bare.

While the rest of 1998 was content with campy remakes and garrish fashion (see every outfit in Jawbreaker, filmed the same year), the underground swelled with seismic beauty, its own affective ugliness, where When Forever Comes Crashing rang with such heartbreaking magnitude, we still feel it decades later.

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