For over 25 years, now, Jacob Bannon has been hardcore’s greatest renaissance man. As the vocalist for the iconic Converge, he’s plastered thick-necked screams, jowl-loosening howls and a bit of melody onto the band’s fractured metalcore and post d-beat powerscapes. As co-owner of the Deathwish Inc. imprint, alongside Tre McCarthy, he’s scouted the scene and delivered a cross-section of excellent LPs from Deafheaven, Doomriders, Code Orange and so much more. As an artist, he’s gifted our eyes countless abstract and romantic images, the tilted, moody, hi-res visage from Converge’s Jane Doe release still ubiquitous across hardcore fans wardrobes worldwide. His oeuvre has often been in the extremes, but WYW, the first full-length effort from his Wear Your Wounds project, tones down his approach just slightly. Doesn’t make it any less affecting, though.
While Bannon’s most well-known for working with Converge since the early ’90s, Wear Your Wounds isn’t the only outside project he’s delivered over the years. He worked post-rock and ambient electronic tones with Supermachiner, who released their Rise of the Great Machine LP back in 2000; as J. Bannon, he released “The Blood of Thine Enemies,” a haunting, six-minute dirge. WYW arguably has most in common with the latter, with most of its tracks being presented as slow-build epics, often led by a moody piano intro. That’s exactly the case with the title track, Bannon’s lightly-fingered piano work setting a grim mood before a slow-mo crush of distortion and hammered-down drum work thicken up the arrangement. Bannon’s vocals are muffled, though melodic, but deep beneath the maximalist mix there lies a few harrowing screams. Follow-up number “Giving Up” likewise plays out with a spacious intro, which builds towards a multi-layered, melancholy peak. “It’s three a.m., and I’m sick to death,” a diminished Bannon drawls out, adding in the narrative how he’s also sick of crying, and ready to give up. The downer feel is grafted onto much of WYW, like on the crawling, kind of Mogwai-styled “Iron Rose,” a testament to pained memories.
Between the mood and the similar ebb and flow of its pieces, WYW doesn’t exactly make for the most diverse listen. Bannon is aware, revealing in a recent interview: “The way I came to write songs seems to be one giant crescendo.” There are, however, some textural differences that make the break the record out of its routine. “Breaking Point,” for instance, has Bannon working a higher register tenor than on the rest of the record. He’d used this tone with less control as an awkward and intentionally creeped-out warble on vintage Converge pieces like “Shivers” or “The High Cost of Playing God.” Here, it’s painfully beautiful, a blue and weary cry eventually eclipsed by a wriggling, bend-heavy solo.
Elsewhere, “Best Cry of Your Life” juices up the tempo with a chaotic double-kick drum routine, while the glum nylon string guitar lines of “Shine” are juxtaposed by optimistic tambourine shuffling and Bannon’s lines to all “the bruised boys and girls” looking towards a brighter day.
“Goodbye Old Friend” likewise feels redemptive, a gorgeous finale soaked with layers of soul-smearing organs, boot-stomp percussion and a cobalt slide guitar melody not unlike Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s classic, country western-mining “The Cowboy.” Bannon’s muted but misty-eyed musings celebrate a friend that’s crossed over “beyond the gate,” each line showing gratitude for what that person added to his life.
“Thank you for all the shit that you gave me,” he sings warmly. Between all those Converge records, his impact on hardcore as a whole, and now his latest work with Wear Your Wounds, countless fans could be thinking the same about their love for Bannon.
-review by Gregory Adams