We recently got stuck in traffic on a road on our way home from somewhere. By the side of the road, a man was burning wood debris. He had started the fire and then threw the majority of the wood onto it. We could see a tower of smoke around the corner, but it was that sweet wood smoke smell that came to us first. We trundled slowly further in the traffic and eventually stopped right by the man and his fire. This near, the smoke engulfed our car. The earthy haze stripped our throats bare and ash erupted from our mouths. It was nauseating and suffocating and it was this immurement in smoke that is akin to the tone featured on Conan’s latest release Monnos. That tone is thick, man.
Where previous releases like 2010’s terrifying Horseback Battle Hammer and their 2011 split with Slomantics were more explorations of that cavernous tone, Monnos represents a slight shift in focus, from tonal excavations to songwriting construction. These boys learned how to write. What’s more, they’ve learned how to refine and distil their craft and they’re all the more punishing for it.
In comparison to Horseback Battle Hammer (HBH), Conan have kicked on into a relatively speedy trot on Monnos. Tracks like opener ‘Hawk As Weapon’ and ‘Grim Tormentor’ establish a rumbling pace and actually feature some Floor-esque grooves. The tracks are more concise too, with none breaking the 9 minute mark. Nothing sags under the tone’s weight, which happened in parts on HBH; this time round they wade through the swamp at a steady momentum. Also notable is the cleanliness of the production; everything is clear and the riffs sound fucking huge on good headphones. The drums too benefit and provide possibly the highlight of the record.
Maybe he was lost on prior records because of their murky production, but drummer Paul O’Neill really shines on Monnos. On HBH the drums were big and bombastic and simply carried the weight of the riffs on his shoulders, whereas this time round O’Neill tinkers and shuffles dexterously and isn’t just a workhorse, but shows subtle ability and really brings an extra intricate facet to Conan’s sound.
It’s not just the drums, but the vocals standout as well. I really enjoy their ‘yelling across a valley’ style, as if a fjord lay between the vocalist and the listener. To me, they’re rather creepy as they are clean but are difficult to interpret. I try to grasp a meaning of what he’s saying but it always slips through my hands and into the waters of the fjord.
Monnos is undeniable in it’s strength; new and old, Conan are showing an ability to grow and refine their writing, and Monnos is definitely an example of that. Their crushing tone is still there and they know the riffs with which to wield it; their rhythm section is the thinking mind behind the battling fists and they hold tight formation in hand with concise composition. They are building to great new heights up into their mountains they inhabit with towers of smoke to guide them on their way.