Sucker For Punishment: Bring Forth the Hammers

What stuck out to me immediately upon hearing Conan’s album Monnos two years ago was not only how dense, how pulverizing the Liverpool trio’s brand of doom is, but how blunt it is. It’s the metal equivalent of Lothar of the Hill People. The term “caveman doom” has been bandied about in attempts to describe the sound, and indeed that term is quite apt, as Conan strips away all nuance out of the music. Everything is huge, gigantic, direct as a blow to the head – riffs, drums, vocals strike mercilessly – which translates exceptionally well to a live setting, where the band is an astonishing spectacle. However, it was in the lyrics where Conan truly won me over. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis removes any form of subtlety in an attempt to make the lyrics as simple and vivid as possible, and it works brilliantly: Wizened giant leader. Bring forth the hammers. Two handed shockwave. Endless Thunder. One arrow eight deaths. Power from the sun. Blood drenched harvest. Grief upon the land.

Talking to Davis a couple months ago, his explanation for his minimalist writing method was brilliant, and well put. If a boulder was coming at you, you wouldn’t be screaming in complete, long sentences with commas, you’d be communicating as simply and directly as possible. Considering Conan’s music is very much like a gigantic, unstoppable, Indiana Jones-style boulder crushing everything in its path, you realize that’s not only the best approach to take towards lyric writing, but it’s the only way for this band.

As you could probably guess, with a formula so straightforward there’s not much wiggle room for Conan to alter its sound from album to album, and indeed there’s an air of “more of the same” on the new record Blood Eagle (Napalm). Only this time around, there are significant sonic changes. One of the more appealing aspects of Monnos was just how dense and suffocating its tone is, but Blood Eagle takes a different approach, opting more a more refined, sprawling sound, and the end result sounds colossal. Yes, the tone is slightly tidier than the simpler Monnos, but the sheer size of the Blood Eagle mix befits this band perfectly. Standout songs like “Crown of Talons”, “Foehammer”, and “Blood For Teeth” churn, crunch, and crush with striking power and surprising grace, drummer Paul O’Neill bringing a little swing to the slow, deliberate tempos. This is the kind of doom metal you can simply lose yourself in, let yourself be overwhelmed by the sheer breadth and awesome weight of it all. 

Also out this week:

Architects, Lost Together, Lost Forever (Epitaph): The British band play by-the-numbers metalcore, which is always a gigantic strike against them, but despite that musical template, which is so tedious, so 2004, so hilariously angry, these guys always toss enough atmospherics and subtle touches of atonality to separate themselves from their peers. Is it enough to make their sixth album interesting to anyone older than 14? Of course not. But a couple songs are mildly catchy (“The Devil is Near”, for instance) and it’s at least nice to hear a little texture underneath all the obnoxiousness.

Barren Womb, The Sun's Not Yellow, It's Chicken (Spartan): Instead of going on and on about how these Norwegian hacks are shamelessly ripping off Kvelertak and swiping Bob Dylan lyrics instead of doing something original, here’s an arbitrary list of five (kind of) underrated Dylan songs. You’re much better off listening to those instead. “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)” “On the Road Again” “Caribbean Wind” “License to Kill” “Pay in Blood”

Biblical, Monsoon Season (New Damage): The debut album by the Toronto band is one that Decibel readers should go absolutely batty over, a deft combination of Kyuss-derived stoner rock, rampaging heavy metal, and enough stylistic breadth to set itself apart from any other new bands. Not only that, but this excellent six-song record has tremendous crossover appeal, its restraint on adventurous tracks like “All Justice, No Peace” and the slow-burning “The Quiet Crooks” sure to appeal to the indie crowd. Surf rock, Americana, and rockabilly slowly creep into the music, which gracefully melds with the otherwise heavy arrangements – check out “Married Man”, which is like The Sadies meets Ten Years After – but for the metal crowd, folks need not look further than “Second Sight”, a flat-out beast of a track that opens the album in sleek yet menacing style. At 11 and a half minutes, the title track best exemplifies what Biblical is all about, juxtaposing power with mood, creating a dynamic hybrid sound that hints at various subgenres but never fully commits to one. It’s the kind of debut you hope for from a promising band, sounding mature and fully-formed, yet brimming with potential.

Dark Forest, The Awakening (Cruz del Sur): The American critical hive mind can be very selective when it comes to certain styles of metal music to hype, especially when it comes to bands that don’t fall under the “extreme” umbrella. While artists like Atlantean Kodex, Slough Feg, and anything Chris Black plays on (deservedly) attract a great deal of attention from writers and publications, other, lesser-hyped releases by bands that sound exactly the same go by largely unnoticed. Take British band Dark Forest, for instance. Their third album does exactly what the aforementioned bands do, playing epic heavy metal that focuses on power and Celtic-derived melodies, doing so with equal parts bombast and grace. “The Awakening”, “Penda’s Fen”, “Immortal Remains”, and the aptly rousing “Sons of England” are fine examples of the confidence the quintet exudes, an elegiac quality lending the music welcome gravitas, Josh Winnard hitting the high notes with ease, selling the storytelling lyrics with conviction and theatricality. It’s an immensely satisfying exercise in classic heavy metal that deserves a lot more attention than it’s ben getting. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Dirge, Hyperion (Debemur Morti): I have no idea what “Neurotic Post-Core” is, but despite being billed as such, the French band doesn’t exactly sound like it fits the description. I can’t see how this expansive music could have any possible connection to “core”; actually it’s more Neurosis than anything else. And as for sounding neurotic, it’s anything but. It’s positively dreamy, bringing a little more soul to a sound that’s often too preoccupied with sounding as heavy as possible. The 16 and a half minute instrumental “Remanentie” is extraordinary.

Gojira, Les Enfants Sauvages (Roadrunner): It’s hard to get excited about live releases anymore. Live albums used to be a real event for fans, carefully recorded and fussed-over, sometimes touched up in the studio, in an attempt to give folks as accurate a replication of an artist’s concert on record as possible. With technology making recording live performances so much easier, live releases have become so much more commonplace, and especially in metal, a lot less exciting. However, good live albums still crop up every now and then by elite bands. High on Fire knocked one out of the park last year, and now Gojira has done the same with this CD/DVD recorded in Brixton. Without hyperbole one of the best live bands in metal today, Gojira is a tight, powerful, and visceral experience in person, and that translates exceptionally well on this set, which is superbly performed, effectively recorded, and very well-shot.  My only gripe would be that the band’s North American tour boasted a better setlist (“The Art of Dying” and “Vacuity” were not performed in Brixton), but this is still an exceptional live document, a perfect keepsake for fans. Order it here.

Insain, Enlightening The Unknown (Kaotoxin): I could gripe about how the polished production on this French band’s album detracts from what should be pulverizing death metal, but the songs are so forgettable, so arbitrarily written in the first place that it’d be even bigger a waste of time than it already is.

John Baizley, Nate Hall & Mike Scheidt, Songs Of Townes Van Zandt Vol II (Neurot): Two years after the Townes Van Zandt tribute album featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Neurosis’s Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, Neurot has put together a follow-up featuring the masterminds behind YOB, Baroness, and USX. While Scheidt and Baizley contribute passable covers, it’s Nate Hall who channels the late songwriting genius the best, his three performances aching, ragged, and beautiful. It’s hard not to admire the intent of an album that helps introduce the work of a great artist to audiences who might not have otherwise considered trying out.

Nervosa, Victim Of Yourself (Napalm): The three Brazilian women make an immediate impression with their delightfully raw thrash metal on this debut album. Shamelessly derived from the early style of Destruction, Nervosa nevertheless does it well, right down to Prika Amaral’s Schmier-style snarl.

The Shrine, Bless Off (Tee Pee): The Venice, California band serve up another lively mix of skate punk and arena rock on their latest album, and although you can sense that these songs would leap out more at audiences in a live setting than what they hear on this record, this is still a blast. An unholy marriage of punk rock confrontation and cock rock swagger.

Follow me on Twitter at @basementgalaxy

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