PICK OF THE WEEK: UK’s Conan mix fantasy and meaty violence on slow-drubbing ‘Blood Eagle’

ConanIt always nice when you can pick a band’s record, glance at the cover art, read the name, and have a really good idea what’s in store for you once you take the thing home and release it from its shrink wrap. Actually, in this digital age, does anyone really do that anymore? Just me?

Anyway, the first time you heard the names and saw the cover art of bands such as Darkthrone, Immortal, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest, groups with powerful monikers who employ eye-catching imagery, didn’t you kind of have an idea of what you could expect once you first heard the music? Granted, those types of bands don’t come along all that often anymore, which is kind of a shame, but it’s not like we’re devoid of them altogether. After all, UK trio Conan are stomping all over creation, making doom metal that’s ugly and monstrous, and living up to their name, making like stoner-fueled barbarians looking to tear down your villages. Or homes. I mean, their name is Conan, so you should expect a sonic beating when you endure their music, and if you didn’t know what they sounded like, their album covers still would lure you in.

Conan coverConan first started making a name for themselves globally on their excellent 2012 release “Monnos,” released by Burning World, that first exposed much of the world to their drubbing, massive style. Their records are interesting because there’s like a line that runs through all the songs, keeping things nearly the same pace throughout, with sections that burst and come to bloody life, and heaviness that can maul you. But for the most part, their music keeps you on the ropes, drill you with jabs, and now and again goes for the knockout punch. They don’t seem all that interested in doing what other doom bands are up to these days and have their sights set on making Conan’s world unique to them. That’s also what makes them special, and their new second album “Blood Eagle” follows the same pace. It’s also their best release to date, which is a tall order having to measure it up to “Monnos,” but they’ve added enough meat, sinew, and muscle to their songs to take them to the next level of their sound. They also have Napalm Records behind them, which should only raise their profile and put the in the right hands.

As noted, this hulking machine is but a trio, made up of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, drummer Paul O’Neill, and new bass player Chris Fielding, who also handles some vocal work. They’ve slowly perfected their approach over their time together, and over the course of their two full-length releases, as well as a couple of EPs, a split, and a live record, they’ve gotten better over time, reaching their high point with “Blood Eagle,” a record that could conjure hypnosis. And just by seeing the album art alone, you know you’re in for stories of legends, giants, monsters, viking, and all other elements of metal lore, and they do sell it all perfectly.

The record opens with the nearly 10-minute “Crown of Talons,” a buzzing, slow-driving cut that fills your head with fuzz and metes out its punishment in a calculating a manner possible. These guys aren’t in any hurry to get from point A to point B, which is pretty refreshing, and they let the song unfurl with hulking pounding, vocals that rise up and hang in the air, as if trying to seek a ledge on a mountainside, and drone that’ll rupture you. “Total Conquest” follows, feeling mighty trippy and spacey before again unleashing their suffocating doom that even gets treated with a little bit of speed. Vocals go from caveman howl to a more melodic snarl, and the final moments open up a hornet’s nest and fill the entire atmosphere with bone-shaking buzzing. “Foehammer” follows and just buries your ass. The band hits a gallop that actually reminds a bit of Iron Maiden, and O’Neill’s drums completely take over and deliver utter devastation. Eventually, all parts become equal, and the band does an astonishing job hitting a united front as they bring the song to a smashing, bashing finish that could bruise your eardrums.

“Gravity Chasm” rips open the second half of the album with an awesome, thick doom shuffle that might make you think of vintage Black Sabbath, rolliking melodies, and doomy thunder, where they up the ante on their heaviness. The song simmers and boils along the way, with the final few minutes devoted to killer repetition that keeps driving at you again and again until you find yourself begging for mercy. But there is no mercy! “Horns for Teeth” just keeps pushing forward with the momentum Conan have achieved up to this point, with Davis howling, “Destroyed, destruction, outgoing death!” before giving way to some of his most forceful vocal work on the record. The band keeps lunging at you, digging deeper holes to cover you with dirt, and they hit such a massive fever pitch on this song, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll follow up a track so massive. Yet they do it on closer “Altar of Grief,” where deliberate drumming falls into clubbing madness and throat-mangling yells that mix right into the crazy drone and doom fury that coats this song. This is just a killer outright, and over its 10 minutes, it gets ridiculously heavy, kicks out a steady but smoldering pace, and gives them one more chance to shout in your face before they retreat to their caves or holes in the forest from which they hail.

Conan deserve to be in the discussion when talking about the top new doom bands, and they have the added bonus of their own style that you always know is them when their songs come on. Theirs is the perfect chill-out doom that can make you think of fantasy creatures attacking puny humans, vikings ruling the seas, and other crazy things, but their penchant for heaviness is what keeps you awake and prevents you from fully losing yourself in your imagination. This band should be ruling major halls soon, with attendees holding aloft their strong ales as they howl back all of these battle hymns. Conan never have sounded better, and really, it’s just the beginning of the story for this group of barbarians.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.hailconan.com/

To buy the album go here: http://shop.napalmrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.napalmrecords.com/

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