Conan – now there’s a band name that inspires a a wealth of emotion in fans across the world. Having only just completed their first US trek (On which I saw them twice) I still haven’t entirely recovered from the experience the band provides. Given that I also them twice when I was living in Europe I feel like I can speak with some measure of authority on a band who are among the best of the best heavy acts coming out right now. What I want to do is pick apart what makes this band so mesmerizing and perhaps understand the true might of Conans so called “caveman battle doom”.
One of the things that first struck me about the Conan live experience is that even though they aren’t the heaviest band in the world (Nor are they trying to be) when they play live it certainly feels like it. Whilst I watch the band play I can think of other shows I’ve been too that were heavier (Like Indian, which remains the heaviest show of my life) but there is something utterly visceral and sublimely physical about them which pushes the music forward and gives us all a chance to fall deeper in love with what the band do. What I’m trying to say is that Conan are loud as fuck
I think a large part of what makes this band such a crucial live act has to do with the almost grungy power that it can have. Jon, the bands frontman uses drop tunings and that certainly helps to add almost a touch of the Seattle Sound to the music. In some ways you could even compare a track like Crown of Talons with its Celtic Frost-like assault to the soul wrenching heaviness found on Nirvana’s Bleach. That being said – don’t read that sentence and take Conan as a sort of “my first doom band,” the grunge elements, while present, certainly require a few listens to pluck out.
As arrogant as that may sound I feel like the guys in Conan would agree with me. This is not immediately decipherable music, nor is it really meant to be. Their is a depth to the emotion here that many might not initially ‘get’ and that’s totally okay. I mean – how many other bands regularly employ twin vocalists, doubling lines to get an octavided sound? That’s a crucial part of the Conan live experience that I would be remiss in ignoring. The beautiful contrast of Jon’s crushing bellows as compared to Chris’s higher pitched shouts helps to add a lot of flavor to Conans live rituals. It makes songs where Jon handles the vocals on his own special, but it also creates a sense of overwhelming sonic oblivion. The wary listener will immediately take note of how both vocalists seem to feel the lyrics with an incredible passion leading to emotionally draining live experiences that leave you wiping tears from your eyes.
It’s strange that the band can provoke this kind of emotion too – given that there lyrics tend to focus on fantastical subjects. If you just look at song titles off of their latest record Blood Eagle you see names like Gravity Chasm and Horns For Teeth. Yet within these high falutin’ concepts Jon has been able to couch a depth of fascinating ideas that – while they might not resonate on first listen, certainly seem to come back around and strengthen the listener to wipe the dirt from their face and live to fight another day. Sure it may not be the psycho-spiritual wizardry of Cynic nor the horrified oblivion of Black Sabbath, but it works for Conan, and as long as that’s the case no one will be able to challenge them.
You’d think that with me waxing poetic like this I’d also be able to say that Conan have a spectacular stage presence. But that’s not especially the case. I mean sure – they do the usual headbanging and all that – but it was only really on this US tour (As far as I know) that Jon even started throwing the horns and embracing his place as a doom metal god in the making. Pigeon toed and very humble, he leads the band forward with punishing riffs but never seems to overwhelm the listener or force them into hiding. Instead the bands straightforward stage presence makes them strangely welcoming – an empowering experience for all who are ready to lay their souls bare before a trio of English men who are slaves to the groove.
And what a groove. I think that this – beyond anything else – is what makes Conan special. Their trademark trudge gives depth and breadth to their songs and makes for some surprisingly reassuring listening. There is something vaguely ommic about what they do too – when they exploit their most potent drones live you find yourself droning along – you have no choice, the music is simply that all-encompassing. The thing is, Conan are unlike anyone else in the genre in that regard – possibly because they come from England whereas the vast majority of their peers are American. The way that they come out and unleash a sludgy assault that gets heavier than even Crowbar could ever have imagined is stunning and forces you to scrape your jaw up off the floor. It’s strange that they’ve been able to take such a simple idea and make it so distinctively their own, but with Conan it just feels right. They have managed to figure out what makes their band well… Conan… and they have distilled it into crushing riffs that roll over the listener like so many demented bulldozers, meant to drive the listener to the brink of extinction and then somehow pull them back.
Every element of the bands live experience is natural and powerful. It would feel absurd if they threw poses and goaded on the crowd too much, just as it would be dull if they didn’t move at all. Instead they have found balance, balance which guides them ever forward. I feel kind of silly writing about this as in the four times I’ve seen Conan they’ve had three different lineups – but sometimes that’s just the way it goes – and I think it actually speaks more as to what the bands been able to accomplish that I’m still in love with them regardless of that fact. Their live experience rings forth unbowed, unbroken and perpetually unchecked. They have a new album on the way and now that they have conquered the States once they seem ready to ride forth once again. Conan are the arbiters of their own reality and craftsmen of one of the most entrancing live shows you will ever see – go fucking check it.