Of all the classic ‘noisecore’ bands that graced the halcyon days of the late-nineties to early-00s, there has been precious little live action to saviour over the past few years. Botch have split up. Dillinger Escape Plan took their Mr. Bungle fixation a little too seriously and are now attempting to re-approximate themselves into a Faith No More for the 21st century. Coalesce completely body-swerved Birmingham on their reformation tour, whereas Cave In have only appeared under their space cadet guise.

Converge, just never seemed to touch Brum, every single time they’ve come to the UK. More the pity, as they’re arguably the one band from amongst their peers who have managed to successfully traverse the years since that first boom period almost a decade ago with their integrity and identity relatively intact. Until today, so for those who’ve been waiting for Converge since ‘Jane Doe’ or before, this gig really had a real air of anticipation attached to it. It also boasted a carefully picked undercard in the form of Kylesa and Gaza.
Gaza have managed to gather a respectable following before this show seemingly via old-fashioned word of mouth alone, so as the four-piece from Utah take to the stage, they are greeted by an attentive and appreciative crowd before a note has even been played.
Drawing from the same well of influences as tonight’s headliners, they play a atmospheric strain of metallic hardcore, with really dark, malevolent undertones. Having only recently released their second full-length, ‘He Is Never Coming Back’, they boast a distinctive sound already, and could be mistaken for a number of optimum early-00s noisecore acts, especially the closing track ‘Windowless House’ which proudly paraded the spectre of Deadguy about it. Vocalist Mike was also hard to disengage from, making jabbing, slicing and hanging motions throughout the songs like the worlds most suicidal mime artist.
Whilst unfamiliarity meant that I didn’t quite enjoy them as a lot of the crowd did – presumably those who’ve managed to savour their albums prior – I was really impressed with the dense, atmospheric darkness they managed to conjure up, with a great line in build-and-release dynamics to them. A few too many bands of this ilk are guilty of neglecting songwriting in favour of adding another hammer-on or skewed time signature where not necessary. Gaza can boast that they too can play with real skill, but within a framework of songs with a real brooding edge to them – songs with purpose, in the same way a serial killer would plan his actions as opposed to having a wild slash in the night.

Acting as a nice break in between twin blasts of raging hardcore, Georgia’s Kylesa made a swift return to Birmingham, having last played this stage supporting Clutch a few months ago. With an undeniably impressive dual-drummer setup, their set was built on top of the robust rhythmic undercurrent, with the downtuned, sludgy riffs swaggering over the top and in between them.
Having gradually rounded off the crustier elements of their earlier sound over the years, the tempo seemed a little too defiantly mid-paced and I think a few of the crowd struggled to connect at times, but with the sheer heft of the likes of ‘Scapegoat’ to contend with, by the end of the set most had come around to their way of thinking.

The stoned-out, Sabbath-on-downers riffs of ‘Running Red’ were a highlight, and when the track deliciously reverts to southern-fried, duelling lead guitar between Phillip Cope and the increasingly glammed-up Laura Pleasants, half the crowd were nodding in approval, whilst the other halfway were deliriously banging away.
I had gone into their set a little concerned that their bottom-heavy grungier sound would turn off many Converge fans, but Kylesa can view this performance as a triumph, and a demonstration of the power of relentless, pounding heaviness.

With the four members of Converge almost sauntering onstage, there was little in the way of fanfare heralding their low-key arrival, with the exception of the huge roar of excitement that greeted them. With just the briefest of introductions from vocalist Jacob Bannon acting as a brief calm-before-the-storm moment, they immediately dropped their heads and blasted into Concubine, taken from their universally lauded, some would say magnum opus, 2001’s ‘Jane Doe’.
The immediate effect is akin to diving headfirst into the eye of a particularly violent tornado, with all of Converge’s hallmarks present and correct – their almost mathrock-indebted time signatures, the screamed vocals hollered from the brink of Bannon’s soul and the sheer virulent aggression that has taken the basic templates of metallic hardcore, extreme metal and punk rock and nail-gunned them to an aching, bleeding heart.

They follow with the opening track of their latest album; the super-kinetic, snappy adrenaline rush of ‘Dark Horse’ – which is as immediate and impressive in the live setting as it is on record – and the twisted D-beat and Tragedy-esque guitar squeals of ‘Hellbound’ showcasing the bands willingness to draw from a wide pool of metallic influence to construct their twisted soundclash.
You could argue that with their dark tales of fractured relationships and emotional trauma, that Converge are possibly the worlds coldest, most bleak emo band, albeit one that jettisons any hand-wringing or woe-is-me sobbing in favour of straight up positivity and direct action, making for a completely invigorating live experience.

With Jake doing his damndest to cover every square inch of the stage whilst shrieking his intensely personal paeans to lost love and heartbreak from the very pit of his gut; bassist Nate Newton saw fit to concentrate on a set-long quest to pull off every awesome rock shape he could think of whilst furiously headbanging, making for quite the spectacle.
Kurt Ballou, stage right, effortlessly peeled off riff after riff, with the technicalities of the material making no difference to the sheer level of physical exertion expelled, wildly careering between atonal shards of dissonance and – relatively speaking of course – more traditional metalcore chops. Drum extraordinaire Ben Koller holds the whole set together with literally jaw-dropping drumming, making the rhythmic quagmire that underpins their set seem almost easy in his hands, with that perfect balance between power and precision throughout.

Pit-igniting bombs were rapidly dispelled, with ‘Homewrecker’ and ‘Cutter’ conjuring up roars of approval, ‘Locust Reign’ giving the only nod of the night to their pre-‘Jane Doe’ catalogue, and ‘Lonewolves’ displaying where Gallows may have picked a few ideas up from.
Tempo was dropped as the slow-burning, atmospheric one-two of ‘Worms Will Feed / Rats Will Feast’ and ‘Distance and Meaning’, oozed forth, the claustrophobic menace owing as much to the likes of Unsane and the Jesus Lizard as it does Turmoil or Starkweather, with the occasional vocal lines of the former spat out courtesy of Ballou bringing a particularly Melvins-esque air to the track.

It’s clear that after almost two decades in the game, Converge are lifers. They’ve managed to hold onto a sound- that may have been seen as zeitgeist-y to some throughout their career – but have endured, making sight revisions and tweaks to their sound enabling them to musically stay ahead of the times and remain consistently vital. They may have titled an album entitled ‘No Heroes’, but by the climax of tonights show, the entire venue were treating Converge as conquerors, with rapturous applause and a mass exodus in the direction of the merch table. That, and an overwhelming sense of hope that there won’t be so much of a wait to see them next time round.
Words by Duncan Wilkins email Duncan
Photography by Gobinder Jhitta email Gobinder

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