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Original release date: 4 September, 2001
Label: Equal Vision

It all started with a face. The face of a woman, chin tilted up and obscured by shadows, whose torso is seemingly disintegrating in real time. A haunting, enigmatic image that evoked discomfort and sorrow, but also, in its own strange way, maybe even resilience. This collagic portrait, created by Converge frontman Jacob Bannon for his band’s fourth album, Jane Doe, is one of the most iconic hardcore images of all time. Like the album title suggests, the artwork’s protagonist is anonymous and unclaimed, a host body in which anyone can project their own narrative; a deafening call to be seen and heard.

And the noise within was certainly deafening. The year was 2001 and the Salem, Massachusetts band, led by founding members Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou, had already earned a small-but-mighty following for their earth-shattering strain of hardcore, which was set in motion with 1994’s emo-leaning debut Halo in a Haystack. The album came after a pivotal time for hardcore, as microscenes continued to splinter off after the mid-80s punk movement Revolution Summer, when youth crew bands and post-hardcore acts like Fugazi and Rites of Spring challenged the mainstream media’s portrayal of alternative music by taking a more active stance against the violence and sexism that ravaged the subculture. It was a time of not only social but musical experimentation, where the macho stylings of the genre were being challenged and even thwarted, generating a ripe landscape for the emotionally charged Jane Doe to be created in, nearly a decade on.

Jane Doe traces the painful dissolution of a romantic relationship, playing it out in screeching peaks and hellish lows. Fault and Fracture and Distance and Meaning, expand and contract, laying the scorched-earth foundations for the album’s math-rock guitars and ferocious blast beats. “And like that heart got in the way/ Like that the burden of rage/ Like the years we burned down,” Bannon growls on the latter through such dense distortion that his words are barely discernible. Hell to Pay follows, all smutty and alluring, with a bass-heavy riff that paws at you through the speaker, before baring its teeth and unleashing a nightmarish snarl. At this point, you become increasingly aware that Bannon and his bandmates aren’t just showcasing their technical abilities, but telling a story – of missed connections, bridges burned and love lost. And sometimes that story plays into the same tired tropes that hardcore had recently been trying to bury.

The questionably named tracks Concubine and Homewrecker, as impressive and pummelling as they are – the former’s desperate, crowd-pleasing refrain of “No love! No hope!” is barbaric enough to power a small army – expose the holes in the narrator’s own virtues. The 90-second blast of Bitter and Then Some nods to these moral failings as Bannon attempts to seek redemption over a thrashing squall of noise: “For these are your years and days to outshine/ Push on and soar higher.” The tale climaxes with Phoenix in Flight, an album standout that drones on like a burial hymn as a thick smog of reverb suffocates all light. There’s a sense that the woman at the centre of this record, like the song’s titular phoenix, has been mythologised; a supernatural force rendered immortal and regenerative, and, as a result, faceless. “It was a complicated and emotional time,” Bannon admits. “Making Jane Doe was integral to navigating that; a place to sort out those things artistically and come out on the other side of it a better person.”

Jane Doe also rose from a period of turmoil for the band. In 1998, the group had become fractured. They were a drummer and bassist down, and Ballou and Bannon considered leaving the project altogether. “There was no possibility of a career in metallic hardcore,” Ballou explained in a 2021 video interview with Berklee College of Music, referring to the band’s plummeting morale before bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Kollar joined at the tail end of the 90s. Still, they all stepped into Q Division Studios, the Cambridge recording space that birthed Pixies’ seminal Surfer Rosa, and decided to go at it one more time. With just 13 days and a budget of $11,000, the group worked with British producer Matthew Ellard – whose credits include Tina Turner and David Lynch – to commit their raw, towering demos in drop C to a two-inch tape. Bannon’s unintelligible, anguished cries were made only more harrowing by this analogue approach, giving the record its jagged edge, unblemished by the sterile, overproduced sound that metalcore has come to favour. It was not only an artistic revolution, but a revolution in noise.

"It was a complicated and emotional time. Making Jane Doe was a place to sort out those things artistically and come out on the other side of it a better person” – Jacob Bannon

The response to Jane Doe was as immense as its sound. Converge grew a cult-like following on obscure heavy music forums and blogs, eventually snowballing into mainstream metal acclaim. The album was hailed by influential extreme music publications like the now-defunct Terorrizer and AOL’s Noisecreep, crowned Album of the Year at both; Pitchfork, then deep in the willows of the Avalanches and Phil Elverum, awarded Jane Doe an even-handed 7.7, citing its intoxicating dissonance as a masterful feat.

At the time of recording Jane Doe, Ballou was a budding engineer himself, and took notes of the meticulous technical process behind its creation. Now, he stands as one of the most lauded and prolific producers in hardcore, working with scene giants like Cave In, Code Orange and Nails from his GodCity Studios (which also doubles as Converge’s longstanding home base). Bannon founded the label Deathwish, his widescreen vision launching the careers of post-metal experimentalists Deafheaven and post-punks Ceremony. Converge’s influence has also touched unlikely corners of modern-day pop culture – perhaps most surprisingly when the 1975’s goading frontman Matty Healy told NME that Converge inspired the “aggressive moments” on their 2020 album, Notes on a Conditional Form.

Today, Jane Doe is regarded as a key text by fans of hardcore, revealing something new with each listen. In 2021, a new discovery was made: the woman behind the emblematic image revealed herself to be French model Audrey Marnay, claiming that a photo of her from a 2001 issue of Italian Marie Claire was the inspiration for the album’s artwork. “Hi Converge, it’s Jane Doe. Shall we talk?” she playfully wrote in the Instagram caption. Bannon was quick to confirm this was the case on the band’s social media, closing a long-open loop in Converge lore. What started as a personal apocalypse became a hardcore rebirth, and it all started with that face.