Alert the villagers, Conan are on a raiding mission! Getintothis’ Mark Greenwood met with Liverpool’s own doom-mongers to talk about their upcoming new record out on Monday March 3.
Following on from a string of vital releases, Liverpool sludge-doom metal band Conan are set to release their finest recording to date on Monday.
Blood Eagle has been welded to the Getintothis sound system for the past few weeks, refusing to budge and enjoying multiple listens.
Getintothis were fortunate to meet up with Jon Paul Davis, guitarist and vocalist, but firstly, let us guide you through the new opus.
The album opens with layers of fuzzy and bombastic riffs, unfolding in a montage that consolidates connections between heavy labour, Nordic mythology and Viking savagery. The vocals are drenched in snow and ice, echoing across bleak winter wastelands, fuelling hailstorms of heavy riffage and pounding percussion.
On the evidence of this album, Conan have scaled new peaks, surveying unfamiliar, expansive landscapes steeped in mud and sludge. The songs are crafted and structured in a special kind of primal alchemy, insidiously immersing the listener in a series of dark, claustrophobic entropies.
Conan are conceptually and musically tight, with a vocal delivery and writing that sets them apart from their peers, evoking the muscle bound torso of a mighty giant smashing hammers into the bones of foes.
Throughout the album, the 2013 GIT Award nominees increase cranial tension pressure in pulsing waves that assault the senses. Unforgivingly visceral, slabs of monolithic bass and unrelenting rhythms smash the listener into a strange kind of malevolent bliss.
Total Conquest has an almost psychedelic feel, with spirals of darkness pulling you into a lair of skulls and broken bones.
The album is consistent, bludgeoning and super heavy. We’ve probably knackered the speakers in the car, patrolling the dark streets of Liverpool late at night with Conan providing a fitting backdrop to crumbling buildings while dark, supernatural shapes shuffle down deserted streets.
Foehammer is excruciatingly heavy, forcing the body to nod and bounce to an infernal drone. Occasionally, feedback cuts through thick walls of distortion, soaring and dissolving, smashing and searing.
Gravity Chasm twists the imagination, evoking earthy and primitive sci-fi visions. At times I can’t quite make the lyrics out but it doesn’t really matter. As such the collective utterance, not overdone with the obligatory grunts and growls, is one of sorcery and primordial violence.
Getintothis caught up with Jon in order to get a sense of the process behind Blood Eagle:
Conan in action
Getintothis: The album sounds more crafted and layered than last two releases while still remaining raw. Was there a specific strategy for recording Blood Eagle and what were your aims at the beginning of the recording process?
It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time working to get the tempos, sounds and structures to stick together in very material way. Is there a system of working and what comes first in terms of composition?
Jon Davis (JD): Cheers. You’re right in saying that the album is a bit more layered, and I guess has a little more substance than the other stuff we have released.
I think this is a result of the fact that we have had plenty more shows under our belts and are a bit better at what we do – we understand where we are at a little better. Also, the album is a lot more aggressive sounding than the other releases, more direct and more ‘heavy metal’ than ‘doom’ – maybe somewhere in the middle.
In terms of composition we have written this one in a similar fashion to the others, but maybe we relied upon writing outside of the practice room a little bit more than inside it. This album, more so than Monnos, was written by Paul and I while Phil tended to join us less often than usual while he worked out some stuff.
As a result the album naturally sounds a little bit more raw and stripped back – because most of the tracks were written on just guitar and drums – so we relied upon heavy charging riffs (like on Gravity Chasm) rather than interplay between bass and guitar (like on Grim Tormentor for example).
Because of this writing process we obviously mixed up a few tempos here and there, Paul using his drumming style to get the most out of my simple riffs and guitar parts.
Getintothis: The songs depict dark barren neo-primitive landscapes populated by strange monsters. How much does the urban context of Liverpool contribute to the conceptualisation of Conan and Blood Eagle?
JD: To be honest, the urban context of Liverpool doesn’t influence the album at all. Aside from the fact that we did some of the writing during our time as residents of Vulcan Studios (Dock Road), we didn’t rely on any aspect of the city at all.
The themes that we focus on in the band are all inside my head actually, put there by movies such as Clash of The Titans, Krull, Conquest, Jason and The Argonauts.
We don’t write about the real world as there are plenty of bands already doing that, instead we play songs about sword and sorcery and mythology – we find that much more interesting.
Getintothis: We’ve been listening to heavy music for over thirty years now and Blood Eagle is easiest one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever heard. Do you think you can get any heavier? Are there any influences which you think might surprise your listeners?
JD: Yeah, I reckon we can write heavier stuff, it would be a shame if we had written our ‘best’ or our ‘heaviest’ stuff already as we feel there is still plenty of mileage left in us.
There are plenty of things that we did really well on this album, but already when we listen to it we get ideas for newer stuff and I reckon we’ll start working on stuff next year if we get time.
For influences you should check out Fudge Tunnel, Slomatics and High On Fire.
Conan at the 2013 GIT Awards
Getintothis: The album is consistent all the way through…a rarity for many metal albums which can often be a bit patchy and formulaic. How do you keep ideas fresh given that the three-piece could be perceived as an almost ‘limited palette’ in terms of instrumentation?
JD: I think this all comes down to the song writing. Bands like High On Fire, Sleep and plenty of others do perfectly well with a three piece line up.
I actually prefer writing as a three piece as during the writing process there are less interruptions. Writing as a two piece (like we did for most of the writing process of Blood Eagle) meant that Paul and I could just bounce ideas off each other.
I play a riff and Paul plays along and before you know it the song starts to take shape, things get done a lot quicker (for us) when it’s just me and Paul doing the writing. I don’t have to stop and show a third person the riff, there is no third person to interrupt the jamming by playing a wring note or whatever.
There are just less snags when it’s me and Paul doing the writing.
Getintothis: At a cursory level the songs on the album appear basic, stripped down and raucous.
However on closer inspection there is a lot of detail and quite complex textures which give the tracks depth and richness.
Is there a lot of post-production in your process? It must take ages for you to not only to produce certain sounds, but also reproduce those sounds live.
The tones on the album sound almost sculpted to a point where they become extremely visceral and organic rather than processed. Is this the result of hard graft in the studio or does stuff just happen?
JD: The tones and sounds on the album are obviously shaped somewhat during production and mastering. It wouldn’t sound so good just raw out of the studio without any tweaking.
That said though, we use, in the studio, the stuff we use at every show, the only addition being Chris’s Sunn Model T. However, everything else, from the guitar to the speaker cables to the effects pedals, are all mine and I use them all the time.
We feel that it’s really important to only do things in the studio that we can do live, otherwise we are cheating people.
A lot of the finesse of the album, and our other releases, are down to Chris Fielding’s production skills and James Plotkin’s mastering skills.
They basically take what we recorded and make them sound as nice as possible. We’ve worked with both these people on all our releases so far and we’ve got a pretty settled working relationship with both of them and we think that this is important as it helps us to sound consistent, even though the style of the tracks themselves have evolved slightly.
We’re personally looking forward to acquiring a bronze, vinyl of the album, where I can squeeze even more bottom end out of our battered speakers.
If you haven’t yet checked out Conan, we urge you to do so – They are at the forefront of the current doom, sludge metal movement.
Long may they continue to innovate and prosper, leaving a trail of battered carcasses in their wake.
Blood Eagle is released on March 3 2014, via Napalm Records.
For further information click here.
Further reading on Getintothis:
- Æthenor, Mugstar, Conan and Ex-Easter Island Head: The Kazimier, Liverpool