“It’s Pink Floyd turned up to fifty”, my mate said. I’d never heard Waters or Gilmour roar with the same ferocity as Steff, lead vocalist of Sheffield quartet Ba’al, but the band do display a level of progression and turn of pace that would fit in with the Prog legends’ template. The phenomenal power and blackened hostility of the music, however, leaves any such comparisons in the shade.
Here, in Manchester, the rhythm section held centre stage, the pounding metronome pausing as Steff roared effortlessly across the harrowing ‘Thy Sorrow’, the guitar melodies as striking as on the recorded version. As the band dedicated closer ‘Sepia, Photograph’ to “Anyone who’s lost someone to suicide”, a collective gasp emanated from the audience but preceded the earliest pit I’ve seen here. The emotion of the coda, the screams silenced and the band on their knees, was the most powerful moment of the night.
Conjurer are one of the highlights of 2018, their debut album Mire (Holy Roar Records) heavily regarded as one of the success stories of recent years. From the start of their eagerly awaited set the tightness and clarity was akin to watching a more savage TesseracT: the angular hammer of the rhythms and the quiet, pensive melodies matching the album versions. Considering the ages of the band members the on-stage confidence is frightening, their stagecraft honed by sheer hard work and a fraternal instinct, and this was evinced by the staggering resonance and musicality of ‘Thankless’: risen to crescendo by the dual scours of Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale, the Thrash tang of the guitars was laid bare by the blackened Doom isolation and the presence of a seasoned live outfit. Nightingale in particular held the adoring throng in the palm of his hand, a cuddly yet intimidating conductor and focal point for a live act that has only just begun to show what it can do.
Jon Davis is one of the warmest, most approachable guys in Metal, and he would have been happy that he took a back seat to the Conjurer vibe as he blended into that rapt gathering, his usual attention being diverted by the Warwickshire upstarts. He also creates the most monstrous, galloping Doom the world has ever heard and, as ever, Manchester clutched this affable Scouser and his Conan colleagues to its collective bosom.
‘Prosper On The Path’, the opening track to latest album Existential Void Guardian (Napalm), was the second installment of the tightest set I’ve ever seen this band deliver, thanks largely to the inclusion of Dread Sovereign’s Johnny King on the drum kit, and laid down a sound so simple yet crater-creating, groove-laden and immeasurably loud.
Davis is out on his own as the owner of the Conan brand these days and bossed every dynamic of the live sound, the newly lithe dictator ramming the bludgeoning chords through every chest like cartoon thunderbolts: the trammelling leviathans ‘Vexxagon’ and favourite ‘Foehammer’ utterly destroying the room with Chris Fielding’s unfathomable basslines and Jon’s hypnotic screams, the deep chords suddenly falling into a blustering sense of belonging.
It’s what Conan do so well: let the promising youngsters set the scene, then walk on and blow everyone away. They’ll continue to do so for many years yet.
WORDS & PICTURES by PAUL QUINN