Converge is the greatest band in the world right now. Their latest album, Axe to Fall, whips any other metal release in the last five years. Their live performances are nothing less than phenomenal. Even at their most experimental, as they were last Saturday in Williamsburg at the final stop on their current tour, Converge is miles ahead of any other punk or metal band in existence.
Hardcore is almost completely useless these days, exhausted into one-note musclehead crowd-surfing music by thousands of imitators. But by blending mathematical intensity and Kill 'Em All-worthy riffage with the aesthetics and values of the Dischord roster, Converge are almost single-handedly saving punk rock.
Punk bands aren't supposed to write 11-and-a-half-minute dirges, much less open shows with them. That was the first rule to go out the window when the band pounded out "Jane Doe," the explosive title track from their 2001 classic. Other left turns included letting bassist (and Doomriders leader) Nate Newton sing a few choruses, dusting their set with some brutal new songs and balancing mile-a-minute thrashers with almost Melvins-like sludge. Not that they seemed breathless from their hectic touring schedule--Newton and singer Jacob Bannon energized the crowd into a moshing frenzy.
The wiry, heavily-tattooed Bannon, looking like Ben Folds' kid brother leaving a juvie hall, screamed and swayed as if he were seconds away from breaking everything on the stage. As the band's voice, he's a web of contradictions--an unforgettably charismatic rock frontman with a quiet personal demeanor, threatening and somehow inviting with every move. For all that he incites as a performer, he was always personable and professional, sharing his mic with stage divers and almost instantly taking care of a few technical problems throughout the night.
Onstage, Bannon is the most visible figure, but Converge is the purest kind of band. Ben Koller's frenzied blast beats and d-beats conjure a storm that barely allots time to wonder how he manages all that chaos. Kurt Ballou, arguably the world's metal best producer, can turn one-note riffs into metal monsters or pack a head-spinning progression into a hardcore rager. As awe-inspiring as each individual member is, it's impossible to imagine the band succeeding without any one of them. I've forgotten how they ever did.
Perhaps consciously addressing the macho state of hardcore, Bannon dedicated "Last Light" to Life of Agony's Mina (formerly Keith) Caputo and ended the set. Converge do not usually play encores, but the crowd wouldn't leave until the band returned and played "Concubine." Having seen Converge regularly for eight years now, I still don't think I could recognize any of them besides Bannon on the street. But when the four of them are playing together, it's something incredible.