Conan – Blood Eagle (Napalm Records, 28 February 2014)
Conan – Revengeance (Napalm Records, 29 January 2016)
Following our last article that covered a few of North‘s more recent releases, it only makes sense to talk about their current tour-mates Conan as well. The Merseysider trio has been around for over ten years — although the line-up has changed a few times: from 2011 (when their split record with Slomatics came out, which was the last release we discussed here) until the 2014 emergence of their second full-length Blood Eagle, Paul O’Neill had remained behind the drums, but Phil Coumbe had taken on bass/vocal duties; then by 2016 new drummer Rich Lewis had joined, and Chris Fielding (a prolific producer and engineer who had worked on all of Conan‘s previous releases) was added as bassist/vocalist. The only constant throughout the band’s career has been guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, who also runs Black Bow Records in his spare time — oh and by the way, you may remember from when last year when we covered Boss Keloid‘s Herb Your Enthusiasm, which was a Black Bow release, Davis and Fielding both had guest spots on that record.
Well, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Mr. Davis being part of the band continuously has been the only constant over the past decade-plus. The sound produced by this trio has perpetually been as savage and barbaric as the literary character from which their name was derived. To be specific, they identify themselves as “caveman battle doom” — and you’ll find, as we make our way through Blood Eagle and last year’s follow-up Revengeance, there really couldn’t be a more apt description …
Blood Eagle is filled to the brim with slow and megalithic fuzz-laden riffs; from the ten-minute “Crown of Talons” (nearly all of which is basically repetitions of the same fuzzy guitar part, with the drums coming in shortly and the bass doubling the riff later, while it’s over three minutes before the vocals finally jump in — a harmonized sort of wailing/bellowing that will continue on for the remainder of the album) through the bassy “Gravity Chasm” all the way to the dark and heavy “Altar of Grief,” the formula is simple but effective. In fact, the brilliance here IS its simplicity: extreme heaviness that just pounds you right in the gut over and over and over and over… until your entire body feels kind of like Jell-O (or, as our British friends know it, “jelly”).
Not all is entirely primitive and simple here: “Total Conquest” includes a slightly more complex riff or two, “Horns for Teeth” has a sort of intricate one midway through, and much of “Foehammer” (named for a literal translation of the name of a sword in the Lord of the Rings) is a little faster than what you’ll find elsewhere. But for the most part, crushingly slow, relentlessly battering — and plenty of yelling and hollering!
Picking up right where its precedessor left off, Revengeance found its way onto my list of the best releases of 2016 — in fact, it hit #1 on that list (and there was some very good music released last year). The album also has its share of faster and more complex parts (opening song “Throne of Fire” features a quick — almost ‘jaunty’ — introduction that also returns later in the track; the title track starts off much faster, with a blur of drumbeats and grinding fuzz/sludge punctuated with harsh feedback, although later on, the tempo does wind down significantly).
But for the most part, here again we have deathly slow, ultra-heavy riffs. Sometimes almost painfully slow and heavy, like in “Wrath Gauntlet” whose super-super-slow intro spans the entire first half of its nine-minute running length. And those riffs are again coupled with drawn-out roaring/bellowing that is mostly harmonized or doubled — although much of the time here we have more of a contrast between the two vocal parts than in the past recordings, with one of them much deeper than the other, which just adds another dimension of depth (no pun intended) to the already-gargantuan package.
“Foehammer” (from Blood Eagle)
“Throne of Fire” (from Revengeance)
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