Having just returned from Roadburn we figured what better way to start back than with a review of Conan’s new album Monnos. The hype surrounding this band gets bigger everyday, and they played stage 01 at Roadburn to a crowd bursting at it’s seams and spilling out into the outer corriders. It was simple, if you got there late, you weren’t getting in, and they absolutely destroyed the place along with a few eardrums on the way…
Conan – Monnos – 2012
By Gary Lukes
Darwinism be damned. Over the howling cycle of passing millennia, mankind has allegedly evolved from bacterial lifeform to troglodytic primitivism. From intrepid firestarter to destructive splitter of the atom. Not that I expect Conan give a shit. It’s probably fair to say “progression” doesn’t feature highly on their list of priorities. This is a band less concerned with reinventing the wheel and more preoccupied with exactly how hard to run the listener over with it.
A throwback to another time. One before vocoder vocals, polyrhythms and bass-drop breakdowns. This is the sound of purists playing with no regard to trends or scenes; endeavouring simply to create a timeless monument to doom.
But just because they possess a vision as singular as the cyclops gracing the cover, doesn’t prevent the band from standing out. In the short space of one EP and a split with fellow doomlords Slomatics, the Liverpool three-piece have forged a sound that is unmistakeably Conan. Self proclaimed as “caveman battle doom”, they manage to summon vast, epic doom permeated by elements of abyssal drone and primordial sludge metal; caked in a tone thicker than mammoth hide left to bake under the heat of the Hyborian sun.
The album opens to the rumble of “Hawk as Weapon”, war drums beckoning the instruments march unto the horizon before opening up into a coda of stomping riffage. Vocals ring out like battle cries, echoing above the barbarity below. Sticksman Paul O’Neill supplies a bruising backbone , mobilising chugging riffs that are so thick, they practically drip tar from every bloated chord. So often, doom can become overly reliant on the power of THEE RIFF And while Jon Davis’ guitar is definitely at the forefront of the band’s assault (his axe imbued with tone mighty enough to move mountains), Conan, like any effective battalion, draw on the strength of their entire legion.
“Battle in the Swamp” gallops out of a hail of feedback into surprisingly upbeat sludge before the band finally drop into their more customary brand of sustained, droning chords. Finishing the song on a riff so bouncy, it could move the head of even the staunchest of enemies. This momentum is continued into savage third track, “Grim Tormentor”. Opening with a swirl of atmospherics, it surges fearlessly into an energetic riff that almost jangles like something Sub Pop or Amphetamine Reptile might have released twenty years ago; albeit one that is severely down tuned and doped up on horse tranquilisers. Boasting a chorus truly worthy of raising your gauntlet to, it’s one of many songs that utilise the gruff backing vocals of bass player Phil Coumbe. His low-end pipes have added an extra dimension to the group over the last couple of releases; stylistically ranging from deathly growls and fierce bellows to low, monastic intonations.
Dark, spacious instrumental “Golden Axe“ curbs the aggression momentarily and provides some breathing space. Sounding like the lament for a fallen giant, its militaristic drums and slow-plucked notes ring out ominously over yawning chasms of silence. This sparseness contrasts dynamically with the following “Headless Hunter”, which bursts into droning, swollen chords that bluster over the pummelling rhythm section and superb duelling vocals. And just when the track seems to be losing its momentum, Conan switch it up a gear and erupt into a hulking, leaden riff.
Album closer, “Invincible Throne” harkens back to the colossal drone of old favourites “Krull” and “Sea Lord”. Its monolithic chords enshrouded by a fathomless fuzz that resonates over the call of the vocals and brings the album lumbering to an appropriately epic conclusion. What Conan have conceived is more than an appropriate start to their legacy. It’s an album made to not just shake the doom scene, but bury it under an avalanche.
The perfect soundtrack with which to crush your enemies. If you close your eyes, you can almost see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women. Humanity may continue to reach for the stars, but Conan is the ancient rumble beneath their feet.