Converge and Martyrdöd and Okkultokrati, Club Academy, Manchester, UK, August 4, 2014
Okkultokrati are a Norwegian metal band who offer aggressive, low-tuned punk attitude with a level of startling complexity worthy of Psyyke. Their performance was marred slightly at the beginning thanks to a stunning feat of sound engineering (I mean, what kind of band actually requires their microphones to be switched on? Jeez…) but this was soon forgotten amid the aggression and heartfelt way in which the band threw themselves into the show. Check them out here.
Martyrdöd, from Sweden, showcase the finest in a fusion of hardcore, some black metal overtones and punk. Their melodies are rough, grabbing the listener and making them pay attention, and their live performance is a hot mess of growls and hair and distortion, all mixed together with Mikael Kjellman’s harsh, rasped vocal style. An excellent support choice that really gets the crowd going, you can check them out here.
The members of Converge are quite possibly the hardest-working people in the business right now. Whether it’s Jacob Bannon’s Wear Your Wounds project (not to mention his side-project Irons and the fact that he’s CEO of the biggest label in hardcore, Deathwish Inc.), Nate Newton fronting Doomriders, Ben Koller’s new band Mutoid Man or Kurt Ballou’s constant production credits on albums as diverse as Seance Prime by Trap Them, Mosquito Control by Isis and Unsilent Death by Nails, as well as producing and mastering every single Converge album since 2004’s excellent say-no-to-drugs record You Fail Me, these four men always seem to have so much going on that it seems crazy that they even have time to go on tour as Converge. Just over a week ago, Bannon put on the first official Deathwish festival in Cambridge, MA, which Converge co-headlined with Trap Them. The festival also showcased up-and-coming bands on the Deathwish label, such as Harm Wülf (a side project from George Hirsch of Blacklisted) and Cult Leader (ex-members of Gaza), as well as bigger names like Modern Life Is War and Oathbreaker.
So you could say they’ve been busy.
The tension in the air, the excitement and expectation for this gig is palpable. Ben Koller leads the march onto the stage, twirling drum sticks between his fingers. Nate half-smiles and gives a little wave, while Kurt and Jake just walk on, Jake picking up the microphone and beginning his standard jumping up and down on stage to get warmed up. They tune up very briefly before Ben breaks out into the opening drum riff of Eagles Become Vultures. Jake starts screaming the lyrics, crouched before the crowd, who scrabble over each other, desperate to join him and sing along. Jake happily surrenders the microphone every so often and jumps around while fans scream the words.
With barely a pause, the band dives into Aimless Arrow, the lead single from 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind, Bannon earnestly half-singing, half-shouting lyrics about loss and hope and broken hearts, and the crowd, stage-diving and literally walking up on the stage to hug him as he sings, are in his thrall.
The energy in the room is thick and vivid, and the band members soak it up. One man gets caught in what Nate Newton describes as ‘stage dive limbo’ at the end of Trespasses, finally making it to the stage just as the song ends. It’s testament to this band’s incredible work-hard, play-hard ethos that their lyrics and subject matter are invariably dark and challenging, yet they can have so much fun both between themselves and with the crowd. Jacob Bannon’s witty responses to garbled heckles from the bowels of the crowd are often genius, often very dry. One fan shouts for them to play Wolverine Blues, a cover song in their cannon so old that they probably haven’t played it live since the mid-90’s, to which Jake grins and replies, ‘If you get up here and sing it, we’ll play it. I’m not singing it.’
Needless to say, they don’t play it. The biggest surprise of the night is a song from 2006’s No Heroes. At ten minutes long on the record, Grim Heart / Black Rose is a complex, brooding song which is originally sung by Jonah Jenkins of Only Living Witness and brought beautifully to life by Nate Newton’s soaring vocals as part of this live show.
They finish the main set with Heartless from You Fail Me, before leaving the stage drenched in the sweat of the deluge of fans on the floor. Their encore consists of two pairs of songs, Concubine and Fault And Fracture from 2001’s seminal album Jane Doe, followed by First Light and Last Light from You Fail Me. Jacob Bannon thrusts the microphone towards fans throughout this last song during the verses, and then finally, as the song reaches its climax, he stands up straight on the stage, microphone in the air as the crowd screams the final lyric in one voice: ‘This is for the hearts still beating.’
After the show, it’s great to see Bannon interacting with fans as they one by one approach the stage. Some merely shake his hand and say thank you, but for others, this band has meant everything for a very long time. ‘You got me through so much shit. Thank you,’ one fan says as he holds Jake’s hand. Another stands in front of Bannon and just says ‘Jane Doe saved my life’. Converge is not just a band for some people. Their ethos, their constant outpouring of quality hardcore and deeply felt, impassioned lyrics, as well as the hardworking nature of the band members, really resonates with their fans. It’s this that makes Converge so respected in the hardcore scene. And hopefully, what with Nate having just recorded a video of Ben and Kurt working on some new material during a soundcheck, a new album may not be far away. Here’s hoping.
Eagles Become Vultures
Empty On The Inside
Axe To Fall
Precipice / All We Love We Leave Behind
Grim Heart / Black Rose
Reap What You Sow
A Glacial Pace
Heaven In Her Arms
Fault And Fracture