Following up a breakthrough album, such as Boss Keloid’s last opus Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar) which finished at #4 in Ghost Cult’s Album of the Year poll in 2018, is a challenging proposition. Stray too far from the magic formula and you risk undoing that giant stride taken forwards (even without being a band that has always taken efforts to ensure development and evolution of their sound is a given); repeat the previous approach and accusations of diminishing returns, or playing it safe, abound along with an invariably inferior product. Continue reading →
Probably due to the bitterly cold December weather, the Academy 2 is already full to bursting by the time opening act Healing Magic hit their stride. Featuring a Cavalera who prefers to spell his name correctly, the Arizona based band are fronted by Max‘s youngest son Igor,and kick off the evening with some Black Sabbath inspired rifferywhich unsurprisingly goes down well in the home of metal. Continue reading →
“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.Continue reading →
Ever since Cathedral decided to hang up their Doom-encrusted boots, the UK has been dying for someone to fill the void with the same level of otherworldly mysticism and crushing heaviness. Obviously, we do have Conan making waves if you’re a fan of the weight of the world pounding you into the dust, but if you like your Doom with a touch more class and Sabbath flair, Witchsorrow should already be on your radar. Four albums in and the trio are still able to conjure some of the most infectious riffs and choruses, laden with vivid imagery and nihilistic sensibilities.Continue reading →
Their excellent self-titled début in 2016 did plenty to make a listener look forward with anticipation as to what Impavidus might have up their collective sleeves. The first release from this EP, ‘Lies’, opens with a storming bit of drumming, courtesy of Chris O’Rourke and some wonderful vocals from the very talented Michelle Adamson, it’s clear right of the bat that on Eradication of Mankind (Independent/Bandcamp) they’ve made good on those expectations.Continue reading →
“Fortunately Blood Eagle (Napalm Records) was a half-decent album and people really enjoyed it,” chuckles Jon Paul Davis, six stringer and larynx of British flag-bearers of crawling, cavernous, treacle-thick, cavern-sized, continent-heavy Doom Metal, Conan. “So people think we were under pressure to write the next big album, but, to be honest, the only pressure we put on ourselves was to make sure it felt like a ‘new’ Conan album.”
“I could go in the studio now and write songs that sound just like ‘Krull’ (from the band’s 2010 debut EP, Horseback Battle Hammer – Throne Records), and we could do that 10 times over, and it’d be dead easy, and people would be made up. But we ask ourselves is “Is this album different to what we’ve already put out?” And if we can say yes, we can be happy. We hate the idea of repeating ourselves and sticking to tried and tested formulas.”
And Revengeance (Napalm) manages to do just that. And more. With a greater focus and attention to detail in terms of dynamics and the ebb and flow of an album, the band have taken a more cerebral approach to the use of pace and planning. Emerging from a deliberate, slow, beginning, the album slowly unfurls with miasmic patience while building then launch into the fervid, emphatic title track halfway through. Such deliberate album dynamics works with savage effect. Wear them down, smack ‘em in the head, skulk through the fetid, brooding torrent of pained slabs, before bludgeoning again.
“We were going to put the track ‘Revengeance’ first…” muses the effusive Davis. “It was the first song we wrote when Rich joined – it was the first one that we three in the current line-up wrote together, which was one of the reasons we felt it was important to call the album after it. But it seemed like it was a bit too fast to put as the first track, we didn’t want to throw people, so we figured it’d be nice to put it halfway through the album to wake people up a little bit; we thought it’d have a better impact at track four.”
Conan, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photography
Another development in the Conan sound is Davis’ continued development of how he (ab)uses of his vocal chords. “The vocals are different. I’ve gotten a bit better at “singing”, I suppose. Not that I want to sound like a good singer – I’m still just shouting in tune. It’s great. I love the attention… I’m really good looking so I get all the girls now! I’ll start dressing a bit more smart…” jests the laidback riff-meister. “Ha, no, it’s cool. With myself and Chris… I never class myself as the frontman, though. We are the front “men”. Visually we’re both singing. I do most of the singing, but I like to think me and Chris are just as important in that respect. We’ve started to do a bit more of a vocal back and forth”
“(the vocals) are now not just something that’s happening while the riffs are going on! Compare it to Horseback Battle Hammer, which is just me straining my voice and doing one note – on this album there’s a bit more melody to it. If you look at the song ‘Revengeance’, there’s a part where I’m singing the line “All this is infinite, we rot inside of it” the actual melody for the vocals there is from the track ‘All By Myself’”. That’s where that came from.” (You’ll have to judge that for yourselves…)
“We toured a lot with Blood Eagle (Napalm) and listened to a lot of Weezer and Rainbow… bands with really good vocals. We haven’t tried to deliberately copy them, and we’re miles away from being able to do something like that, but we’ve definitely been able to add more melody into the vocals which has worked really well.”
To the outsider, it definitely seems like Blood Eagle was a career-changer in terms of raising the profile of the band…
“It was, but the profile of the band goes up a notch every time you release something and every time you play decent festivals, your profile improves. Obviously, if you release an album that’s total dogshit, then those increments aren’t too big… But we’ve been lucky enough to get some good reviews on the back of that, we played Hellfest and High on Fire asked us to tour with them, we played Roadburn for the second time, did our first US tour, our first Australian tour.
“It’s cool. That album helped improve our standing if you want to be competitive about it, but it did just as much for us as the previous ones did in comparison, but over time you rise towards the top of the pond you’re in. If you look at how much it progressed us, probably the same amount as Monos (Burning World) did… Monos took us from Level 1 to 2, Blood Eagle took us to level 3.”
Conan, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photography
And it stands to reason ReVengeance will continue the bands ascent from the heaving depths, particularly when wedded to the increasingly affirmative reports of Conan’s burgeoning live reputation?
“Something that’s really started to become apparent is that when you record more work and get a bigger pool to choose from live, we’ll play certain songs live now, and if we stay clear of the slower tracks then we tend to get a much better response live, people get more into it.”
“So, as a result of that, it has changed the type of set that we play. ‘Foehammer’, ‘Gravity Chasm’, and ‘Revengeance’ have a few points like that. We think it’ll be a lot more fun to watch us live on this tour as we’re not just playing crawling songs anymore”
So, you tell a band that the only thing you haven’t heard of theirs is their debut EP… and they tell you that they’re about to re-release it. “A Sea of Dead Snakes (Blindsight) was very Grunge influenced” states Tom McKibbin, drummer with Oxfordshire Drone quartet Undersmile, “and we’ve gone down a much more dirge-infested road since then! We’ve just had another re-pressing done, and given it a purple tint. It’s our ‘Ribena’ edition! It’ll be going out in November, as that’ll be five years since it first came out.”
The band, comprising two couples, has had a number of experiences in their relatively short existence: “We were so disliked in the beginning; we’ve cleared many gigs before now, particularly playing in Oxford!” Tom muses. “Initially you tend to get thrown onto weird, eclectic bills where you don’t belong. One was a Gay Pride gig where they cut the electricity!”
“They came to us and said ‘Stop! You’re making everyone leave!” continues rhythm guitarist / vocalist and Tom’s partner, Hel Sterne, “We couldn’t believe it. Then on came Sassy Ribbons, a drag act…”
The band’s second album, Anhedonia (Black Bow Records), has been out some months and has met with serious acclaim. Tom is enthusiastic about the reaction: “It’s been really great. The weirdest thing is that it was album of the month in Terrorizer, which you normally feel is reserved for Metallica or Slayer!”
The inclusion of cello on certain tracks has been considered a vital ingredient by many of the album’s admirers: “Taz [Corona-Brown, guitarist / vocalist] and I have always been obsessed with cello”, states Hel.
“We both have similar feelings about melodies, so it was basically something that had to happen. Our cellist Jo Quail is very talented: we told her to just do what she felt, and she did. She just went into that sombre zone which is where we like to lurk!”
There’s a wonderful blend of light and the disturbingly dark in Anhedonia, something that the band are aware of: “It was necessary in order to translate the amount of heartbreak that was intended in some of the songs”, Hel thoughtfully explains. “Some of those things, however, refer to other, nicer times. It’s so important to have contrast.”
“As long as I’ve known Hel and Taz, they’ve naturally gravitated to this close-harmony, slightly discordant edge” Tom feels. “As they’re the main songwriters, that’s what comes out in the music, and Olly [Corona-Brown, bassist] and I just try to bring it along. The Drone influence of Undersmile actually came from loads of different areas: Classical, Indian, Shoegaze, through The Melvins and Earth; but this time we wanted a more dynamic range. It’s nice to get these really clean chords – it has the same effect but with a cleaner, crisper sound. It can still be as mournful as it is with the distortion.”
“I think it can be more mournful” rejoins Hel. “Some people listen to music like that because they find it medicinal, purifying, even though it’s filthy, and I completely understand that. I listen to brainwave entrainment a lot, and I find a similar ‘cocooning’ thing in there too.”
The band is now with Black Bow Records after releasing stuff on a whole host of labels. “We recorded at Skyhammer, Jon Davis’ (Black Bow founder and Conan leader) studio,” Tom acknowledges. “Jon offered to put Anhedonia out in time for Roadburn, which was really important for us. He’s well-connected of course, people are really interested in what he’s doing, and so that was it. We did our parts over four days; then it was all mixed in sixteen hours’ straight with Chris (Fielding, producer and Conan bassist) who managed to get such a wonderful, natural guitar sound. Obviously we’d be interested in working with Jon again, but it’s just whoever is interested in working with us really. In the past it’s been as a result of friends asking us if they can put stuff out, or friends we’ve made by putting stuff out. They’re all good people.”
Undersmile played two big sets at Roadburn this year – one as themselves, the other as their more acoustic, ‘Grunge Unplugged’ alter-ego Coma Wall – and has two more big sets to come in November. Tom explains further: “We’re playing the memorial gig for Grimpen Mire’s Paul van Linden, who sadly passed away in June. We knew he’d been unwell but his death was still a massive shock. We did a mini-tour with them, Conan and Serpent Venom a couple of years ago and we all got on so well: Paul was always such a lovely guy each time we met. So we’re really honoured to be a part of that. Damnation Festival just came up quite recently. It’s something we’ve wanted to play for a while so it was a ‘no-brainer’, but once we saw the line-up it was incredible! We’re on quite early in the day, so we’ve got the rest of the day to enjoy the music and get drunk!”
So, do the couples ever take a break from each other?! “We have this year, post-Roadburn!” confirms Hel. “We’re all just so busy: there are Taz and Olly’s family commitments; we’ve just moved house; I run an acupuncture clinic and Tom is very career-focused at present; we’ve a lot of material for Coma Wall…with all that, we’re really having to ‘cherry-pick’ gigs. We did realise that we were spending so much time just working – Taz and I are best friends – and we thought ‘when do we actually make time to just go out and do ‘friend’ things?”
Finishing with another exclusive for Ghost Cult, Hel explains the band’s latest foray into the visual world: “We’ve just finished shooting a video for the Anhedonia track ‘Sky Burial’. So that’ll be two music videos this year!” she laughs.
Stardom? Probably not, but there’s certainly no doubt that the star of this incredibly hard-working, creative and crushing unit is well and truly on the rise.
Conan at Maryland Deathfest 2015, by Hillarie Jason Photography
Jon Davis, guitarist and sole founder member of crushing Doom behemoth Conan, is one of the UK’s most hard-working, beloved and respected musicians; a man of both modesty and determination. Before their recent show in Manchester Ghost Cult quizzed him about their latest tours, their new set-up, and the forthcoming recording of their third album.
This is the penultimate date of an extensive UK tour – the first since your first ever trek to the US. How has this one compared to others?
There aren’t actually that many good places to play in the UK. We’ve had some amazing shows, but a couple of shit ones also – not naming names! There is a difference between playing in the UK & the US, and in Europe. The latter is very professional and business-like; the UK and the US slightly less formal. Over here we tend to drive home every night; we will tomorrow from Glasgow. It’s only four and a half hours so it’s not so bad.
There speaks a man who’s just driven across America! And then it’s straight to the studio?
We’re booked in around July / August time. We’ve a couple of standalone festival shows before then, plus shows in Sheffield, Nottingham and Oxford. Aside from that we’re just going to concentrate on writing the album, getting it finished and trying to get it to the label by September.
With such big international tours, it shows your profile has grown since second album Blood Eagle (Napalm). Does this increase the pressure on the new album?
I haven’t really noticed a difference. As we’re playing live more often we have to make more of the time we’ve got. What we’ll tend to do is get together in the studio and write a song every day or two, then record it in basic fashion. So we’ve got a demo of songs for the album by the time we hit the studio proper.
Things have really taken off since Blood Eagle, with much critical acclaim. Have the last couple of years seemed a bit of a whirlwind?
It seemed that way after Monnos (Burning World Records), our first album, and last year was our busiest year so far: we did over 80 shows, and must have been away from home for at least 100 days. So yes, but we’ve been in control of it. We really enjoy the touring, it’s tiring but rewarding and leaves us with a positive balance in our minds. We’re more in demand, and that’s what you want. I promised myself when I was fifteen or sixteen that I’d play guitar on stage. This venue [Manchester’s Star and Garter] is really important to me, because it’s the first place I played outside of Liverpool – we played here with Charger back in 2010. It was a big turning point for me, and ever since that gig we’ve embraced that energy.
Since Blood Eagle Conan has a new drummer and bassist. How has that affected the writing process?
The writing’s really good as all three of us are in the same room. Chris (Fielding, bass) and Rich (Lewis, drums) are both really good writers, but I don’t think they could write a Conan song yet without me being there. I don’t class myself as a good guitarist but I do have a certain style, which is to focus more on the drums and with the three of us in the room it works more easily. Chris has been our producer since day one, so he understands exactly where we’re coming from and if I write something, he can imagine just how it should sound and move it on. The core Conan sound won’t change; we’re just getting better.
So there’s more energy?
I’d say so. There’s more spontaneity; we’re able to use more of what we come up with so we don’t waste as much now. Rich is no stranger to bands, he’s a very accomplished musician, so having him in the band has been really beneficial. I’m really happy to have both guys in.
So what stage is the album at?
Four songs are demoed, and a release date penned in for January next year. So we’ll be quietish for the rest of this year, then next year we’ll get touring again properly. When we’re in the studio Chris is always the boss, and that’s the way it will stay this time. It must be a little different in his mind, now he’s actually playing bass also, but he doesn’t show it. Chris is actually a great guitar player, better than me by far, and he’s taken to the bass with ease.
And it’ll be out on Napalm, rather than your own label Black Bow?
Yeah. Napalm have a contract for our next two albums and, to be honest, I’m not sure it would be such a good thing to have Conan on my label as I need to separate the two. I also don’t think my operation’s big enough to sell the kind of amount that Blood Eagle did. I’d rather Black Bow was my business, and Conan my enjoyment.
As Dorset’s premier exponents of unrelenting heaviness Electric Wizard have never had it easy. Those familiar with their monolithic dirges will be aware of the turmoil the band has undergone since its inception with more line-up changes since recording 2010’s ‘Black Masses’ with drummer Mark Greening entering and rapidly departing the fold due to more issues with substance abuse and a lengthy legal battle with former label Rise Above to say that Time To Die (Spinefarm) has undergone a difficult conception would be an understatement.
All the hallmarks of Wizard’s sound remain present yet there is definitely a feeling that some ideas have been recycled with some familiar patterns reoccurring. Satan and the Supercoven are reprised in the lyrics but this is one bad trip that’s hard to get out of.
An epic peon to infamous acid murderer Ricky Kasso who allegedly cut out his victims eyes in a drug induced satanic ritual back in June 1984. ‘Time To Die’ is a vicious and negative record which starts slowly but lures you into its murky depths. The sinister hallucinogenic organ work which permeates ‘Destroy Those Who Love God’ delivers all the nocturnal Lovecraftian evil with its fitting samples from documentary ‘The Devil Worshippers’ to good effect. ‘Funeral Of Your Mind’ drags you into the vortex with a nasty tumultuous riff and Jus Oborn’s anguished vocal lurking beneath the sea of feedback and percussion which producer Chris Fielding (Conan) has done a bang up job in retaining the feel of the bands early work while allowing for some of the greater tonal clarity the later work has enjoyed.
Trance inducing repetition has long been the bands calling card and the ethos of tune low, play slow and worship Satan is adhered to with rigid stoicism. The organ adds atmosphere to the oppressive terror on ‘Saturn Dethroned’ yet this is a fairly typical effort from Osborn and company which neither tarnishes their legacy nor will increase their ‘Witchcult’ greatly in size. A consistent album which falls short of reflecting the majesty of their live ceremonies.