Unfortunately we didn’t have a photographer at this one, so you’ll have to make do with a photo of Conan at Damnation Festival.
Conan/Dead Existence/Sea Bastard/Pus – Brighton Cowley Club – Saturday 21 January 2012
By Gary Lukes
Right from the start, The Cowley Club sets itself off as a little bit different. Waiting at the heavy entrance door for the doorbell to be answered, you’d be forgiven for expecting a rendezvous with some kind of clandestine coalition. However, rather than being greeted by some malefic, cowled figure, we are instead invited in by a friendly doorman, the venue inside presenting itself as somewhere between a drop-in centre and a bookshop, offering no actual stage. Most crucially, the acoustics seem clear and the foundations suitably sturdy. Which is the biggest relief of all, as tonight’s line-up will test both to their limit.
Unfortunately, we arrive just in time to hear Pus winding down their set of twisted, hateful sludge. Living up to their name, the South Wales act seep diseased, down-tuned destruction from their crusty, open wounds. Monstrous howls and driving percussion pulsating amongst the suppuration. Certainly an act to look out for.
Next up are Sea Bastard. Counting three quarters of Brighton’s Funeral Hag amongst their crew, the local crowd have turned out in force; cramming the club’s intimate confines to see the doomsters off on their voyage. And it’s going to be a choppy ride.
Setting off under a hail of feedback, opener “Psychic Funeral” sees guitarist Oli drag the waters with a sonorous, melancholic lead. Vocalist Monty mixes the occasional low growl with a scream that channels the squalid spirit of Nathan Misterek and Burning Witch’s Edgy 59; spitting filthy impieties as the band sends chugging grooves crashing down around him. The band regale us with sludgey sea shanties replete with such nautical, sea-faring subject matter as, well… Warhammer 40K, apparently.
Premiering new track “Dungeon Crawling” for the first time, the slow riff lumbers menacingly before the band lurches into passages that evoke the hateful slog of fellow seafarers Graves at Sea. They finish up with “Aqua Vitae”, the demo track sweeping along on a rolling riff. Having recently played their first show outside their hometown, don’t be surprised to see this impressive act make serious waves over the next twelve months.
London filthmongers Dead Existence announce their arrival with “Hateful Misery“. It’s a slow burner, filling the air with charnel fumes until it increases in tempo and splinters into barbed, sludgey riffing. Contorted and buckling beneath its own weight, the song eventually drags its own carcass out of the other side, slowing everything down to a menacing crawl.
“Suspicion” is more immediate, careering with the swagger of a cockney Eyehategod; the spiteful vocals and crunchy riffs contain enough venom to fell a rhino. Set closer “Down the Crooked Path”, meanwhile, is another abhorrent anthem. An ideal representation of the band’s sound, it fuses jagged shards of doom, stoner and hardcore onto a backbone of heaving sludge – siring a depraved, disfigured mass of groove and hatred.
While the hills aren’t necessarily alive with the sound of music, there’s a droning war cry echoing over the South Downs. Liverpudlian warlords Conan ride into town atop gigantic armoured doom snails, crawling into battle at ominous speed. Opening their attack with the colossal “Krull“, its prolonged, abyssal chords so loud they probably mask the groans of the ground beneath our feet as the planet struggles valiantly to keep itself from being jolted off its axis and sent hurtling into the deepest recesses of space.
“Satsumo“ follows suit, rumbling with a resonance that reduces my eyeballs to rattling spheres inside their sockets. The vocals are a bellowing rally cry, as the opening barrage of driving distortion breaks out into a barbaric, swaying groove that is just as likely to shake the bowels of the earth as that of the crowd.
It’s not easy to relate Conan’s “caveman battle doom” to the uninitiated, so unique is the stamp of their hammer. Utilising the admirable ability to taper the blunt, primitive drone of their instruments into cutthroat weaponry, reference points for their stoner/sludge can be found seeping out of contemporaries ranging from Moss to the Melvins and from Electric Wizard to genre lynchpins Black Sabbath.
Taken from the forthcoming full-length, new track “Hawk as Weapon” does not disappoint. A crushing cacophony of towering sludge that stomps along to the stampeding propulsion of the bass and percussion. By the time the band strike the final blow with “Sea Lord“, the only thing more astounding than the fact my insides haven’t atrophied is that this level of commotion could be conjured up by a mere three-piece.
This time last year, it was a real rarity to see Conan marauding across the country. But with their long-awaited debut album finally on the horizon, expect to see them plundering new territory in 2012. Playing shows in Bolton, London and Bristol in late March, they then hit Europe in April, beginning with a well-deserved slot at the prestigious Roadburn festival. So, don your armour for one of the most exciting prospects on the doom scene today.
Give thanks to Crom and prepare for war.