There’s something misleading about the title of the split release Conan vs. Slomatics. I don’t doubt that there could be some element of friendly competition between the Liverpool and Belfast outfits, as there often is for bands on splits, tours, etc., but it’s not so much that the two trios are doing battle with each other, as the name suggests, instead teaming up to rip a hole in the fabric of the universe starting with your eardrums. I guess that would have been too long to use as the title of the release, so Conan vs. Slomatics it is. The disc comes by way of Head of Crom records and boasts three cuts from each act, though Conan use one of theirs for an interlude/introduction, to clock in at just under 37 of the heaviest minutes you’re likely to encounter this year. I mean it. This shit is monstrous.
Conan’s Horseback Battle Hammer was without a doubt the hardest-hitting debut I heard in 2010, and they maintain that grueling, unrelenting tonality on their tracks here. “Retaliator” festers in low end and still manages to sound clear, fuzzed out and righteous. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis and bassist/vocalist/synth-ist David Perry pull massive, inhuman weight from their instruments, and the sound of the band hinges on it. As “Retaliator” transitions into the minute-long spoken word/ring-out piece “Obsidian Sword,” that atmosphere is maintained, but it’s really just a transitional piece to set the stage for “Older Than Earth,” where the Robert E. Howard-obsessed band really unleashes the plod. Perry and drummer Paul O’Neill start the song for about the first of its total 11 minutes, and Davis joins in soon with feedback and a devastating pace that’s topped with simultaneous growls/shouts and clean vocals. More so here than on Horseback Battle Hammer, Conan show there’s more to their attack than just that tone, though, and “Older Than Earth” plays off some higher-frequency parts that aren’t as likely to vibrate your skull. As with “Obsidian Sword,” there’s no sacrifice in atmospheric weight, and so they make it work, but it should be interesting to hear how they play the varying feels off each other on their next album. If their Conan vs. Slomatics tracks are a preview of what’s to come in that regard, here’s looking forward.
“Older Than Earth” ends with a processed sample of someone saying, “I shouldn’t have had that fucking massive spliff,” and though it’s part of Conan’s track, it could just as easily be a lead-in for Slomatics’ opening salvo, “Lose the Five.” Taking the release by its halves, Conan have 19 minutes of material and Slomatics a little under 18, but in that time they deliver three complete tracks and manage – in defiance of both the odds and what’s known as modern scientific methodology – to stand up to their compatriots in terms of heaviness. The band, which formed in 2004 and has subsequently released two albums and a slew of splits (with another forthcoming with Comply or Die), is comprised of first-name-only guitarists David and Chris and drummer/vocalist Joe, who stays back in the mix to let the riffs do the bulk of the work in representing the band. Which they do well. “Lose the Five” isn’t quite as dirgy as Conan’s material, is a bit more stoned atmospherically, but the two bands play excellently off each other’s strengths, and for those who follow the riff, there’s plenty to dig into about “Black Blizzard” and the wrenchingly slow churn of closer “Mont Ventoux.” It would probably be fair to count Ufomammut as an influence, but there are fewer spaced-out elements at play in Slomatics (not that there aren’t any), and less direct focus on repetition as the means of conveyance. Half-speed Sleep with far-back vocals might be a better comparison. Having never encountered the trio before, I was excited to hear the heaviness of these songs, with the stops and hits of “Black Blizzard” being especially convincing and the drum lead-out of “Mont Ventoux” offering a just-right moment of reflection before Conan vs. Slomatics is brought to its finish.
I came into the split excited at the prospect of hearing what Conan were going to do after their debut album, but the appreciation gleaned for Slomatics’ cuts might be even more central to the experience – at least in a “need to hear more of this band” kind of way, plus I can’t think of an Irish band prior hitting on this kind of riffage. If it’s to be a battle of Conan vs. Slomatics, though, it’s hard to pick one as a winner over the other, but Conan probably have more working in their favor in terms of originality and complete aesthetic. That said, both bands certainly have their appeal, and if they’re taking each other on, the real winner is anyone who hears these six tracks. Two trios of planetary heaviness coming together to demonstrate the strength and potency of the UK scene. Damn right it’s recommended.Belfast, Conan, Ireland, Liverpool, Slomatics, UK