Released via Aurora Borealis in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, Conan’s thematic Horseback Battle Hammer is every bit as heavy as the title suggests. This kind of lumbering über-doom I like to call brown metal, because it rumbles so low you could shit your pants from the vibrations. Seriously, listening to the UK band’s EP – you might recall their Battle in the Swamp demo was on their MySpace not so long ago – is like having your head squashed by a boulder-wielding giant, and I’m not usually one for cheesy hyperbolic imagery, so you know Horseback Battle Hammer is heavy.
Conan, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist John McNulty and drummer Paul O’Neill, present four tracks on Horseback Battle Hammer, centering their work largely around the writings of Robert E. Howard. They’re true to their namesake, to say the least. Opener “Krull” is slow and devastating, reaching over nine minutes before offering any kind of major tempo shift or payoff. It’s a great opener for Horseback Battle Hammer, because it sets up a half-speed Melvins vibe that Conan build on with the speedier and more active “Satsumo.” You could say there’s a Torche influence, but what the two bands really have in common is a mega-thickness of guitar tone, and where Torche uses it as a go-to for heavy parts, Conan bases more or less the band’s whole sound around it. Davis’ guitar is monstrous, both when affecting the doomed pace of “Krull” or the more middling speed of “Satsumo,” which at 5:32 is also the shortest song on Horseback Battle Hammer by nearly a full two minutes.
With easily discernible sides two tracks each and a total length of just 33 minutes, the record feels tailor-made for vinyl, but even on the smaller and currently less hip of plastic disc formats, Horseback Battle Hammer more than gets its point across. That point: Conan are fucking heavy. “Dying Giant” brings back the ultra-slow riffing, with McNulty and O’Neill staying remarkably tight together as the pace picks up for a bit around the halfway mark. With songs this plodding, this thick and this crushing, Conan are bound to win friends whether they play slow or fast, but that Davis and McNulty keep their vocals on the clean side of shouting (no screams or growls, in other words), is only going to widen their appeal. As closer “Sea Lord,” also Horseback Battle Hammer’s longest cut at 10:51, starts with drums and moves gradually into the massiveness that Conan has established as par for the course, it becomes clear that the band are seriously onto something, and that not since YOB has a debut of such unabashed heaviness been pulled off so well. Yes, I mean that.
Though the tracks individually are long, it’s a short release, and Conan are smart to leave their audience wanting more, because it works as it is, and with another 10 or so minutes, I’m not sure Horseback Battle Hammer would be as effective or hit as hard. There’s nothing spacey or psychedelic in their sound, but Conan manage to find substance enough in the weight of the earth beneath them to carry across the songs in grotesquely doomed fashion, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them become more complex with their song structures in the future, which is only going to help them provided they manage to keep the material as heavy as it is on Horseback Battle Hammer. As it stands, the trio has just landed one of 2010’s heaviest blows.
Tags: Aurora Borealis, Conan, UK