Review by Paul Castles
Release Date: 3 March 2014
Comic book legend Conan had a fearsome reputation – All conquering, sword swinging, a sight to behold in full flow. The Liverpudlian trio who adopted his name for their doom band more than measure up to the mythical bicep-bulging barbarian. Blood Eagle is a crushing tome of doom and one that the growing band of Conan followers have been eagerly awaiting since the hammerblow impact of Monnos in 2012.
Although in their early days the Merseyside marauders happily went under the banner of Caveman Battle Doom, that mildly witty tag is no longer anywhere near sufficient to capture the sheer power and impact of these modern day warriors. Anyone who has ever seen them live will know that the force of Conan is not something you can just dust off when you leave the venue. When Conan perform fillings explode, glasses shatter and eardrums are tested way beyond any safe parameters that your local GP may put in place. Much like a traction engine, the pace is generally slow but the strength is still strong. If you stand in its way you will get crushed.
Blood Eagle, recorded at Conan frontman Jon Davis’s newly opened SkyHammer recording studio, begins with ‘Crown of Talons’ which sinks its claws deep into your flesh from the opening distorted drone of doom. It’s trademark Conan, 10 minutes long, niggling away at you like an angry wasp on a summer’s day. A relentless pounding intro lingers for more than three minutes setting the scene as menacingly as a Hitchcock film. Eventually the guitars kick in and the straining cries of Jon Davis gives the opener a human touch. Having almost induced paralysis with the extended opening intro, the end of the songs sees more of the same but this time the repetitive downtuned riffs and hammering drums are even more savage, grinding their way through your cranium like a medieval tool of torture.
‘Total Conquest maintains the momentum superbly, more pummeling rhythms that are so low they’re almost scraping the ground with Paul O’Neill’s incessant infectious drumbeat shuddering alongside. Hats off to the man in the Conan hotseat for demonstrating that you can contribute an essential ingredient to the sound without flailing around like an octopus. Once more the intro is drawn out longer than a sorcerer’s broadsword but eventually Davis delivers his characteristic battle cries. If you heard an army coming over the hill towards you making this kind of unwieldy noise you would drop your weapon and do a u-turn and get the fuck out of it.
Conan are as heavy a force as any hardcore headcases you may care to put up against them. Don’t confuse speed for heaviness. Conan’s tempo is moderate but the vibe is absolutely punishing. Phil Coumbe takes on more vocal duties on the album and helps hold the sound together with his taught basslines rumbling away like a threatening dormant volcano.
‘Foehammer’, at around five minutes the shortest of the six tracks, steps outside the template with Davis kicking off right at the start against a bloodied wall of murderous mayhem that travels a notch or two faster than is customary for the doom destructors. Again on ‘Gravity Chasm’ the Scouse hotpots launch into a groove more finely chiseled than a gothic cathedral. You will need all the power you can muster to avoid your neck muscles taking one hell of a pasting with this riff.
Chris Fielding deserves a mention in dispatches for his studio work with Blood Eagle. Although the frequency is floor-level he has ensured that the songs have not simply sunk into the gutter. The clarity is here and having worked alongside Moss Fielding clearly knows how to extract the heaviness from a doom trio without sacrificing the destructive definition. Closing track ‘Altar of Grief’ will satisfy all doom disciples. It burns with an almost incongruously heavy heartbeat that beats away while all around it the tension is upped, swords are raised and battle prepares to commence. In the face of such overwhelming might even the very foundations of the Walls of Jericho would surely succumb.
8 out of 10
- Crown of Talons
- Total Conquest
- Gravity Chasm
- Horns For Teeth
- Altar of Grief