I had almost forgotten the glorious trials that NYC traffic could provide. The opportunities to see oneself as being on a great, grueling journey, near-Homerian. A quest undertaken on foot, dragging a cart on your back, covered in shit and mud, sweltering in the sun. Maybe an extreme vision, but the A/C in my car was on the fritz, and it’s summer south of the wall, so it wasn’t exactly an easy drive. Got to Brooklyn in time to have a burrito at the Acapulco Deli next to the Saint Vitus Bar, however, ahead of the start of a four-band bill with Albany five-piece Hush (also stylized as Hush., with the punctuation), Portland, Oregon’s Black Pussy, German duo Mantar and UK destroyers Conan, the latter two wrapping up a coast-to-coast tour that also included stops for Conan at Psycho California and, just the night before, at Maryland Deathfest.
Brooklyn was the second to last stop on the tour, with Philly the next night and then flights out, but I didn’t get a sense of any post-MDF comedown from the band. The Vitus Bar has enough of a reputation at this point that it has become a destination in itself for bands on tour, and for me, seeing Conan there was no less an event. This was their first time in the States, and while I had an advantage in having seen them twice at Roadburn (in 2012 and in 2014) and at Desertfest London in 2013, the prospect was still exciting, not the least because it was a new lineup. I parked myself near the front a couple minutes before Hush went on:
One could probably call Hush.‘s style death-doom, but I always ascribe a certain sense of emotional drama to that, and the Upstate fivesome were light on that and heavy on just about everything else. More megasludge than death-doom, but plenty extreme one way or another. Vocalist C. Cure set up in front of the stage, and no wonder. Space was at a premium with the mountain of amps backlined, and Hush.‘s own contributions to that pile of equipment were as considerable as the tones that emanated from them. Slow-sounding even in their faster stretches, their lurch was pervasive and Cure‘s growls met the tide head-on, spit or some other manner of regurgitation flying out of his mouth as he headbanged near the front of the stage such that I thought it might be hitting guitarist Jeff Andrews (also of heavy rockers Ironwweed) in the leg. If he did, Andrews gave no sign of it. With an emphasis on tonal crush running throughout, they tossed in some new material along with “We Left Like Birds” from last year’s Unexist debut full-length, and while they were somewhat unipolar in their overall affect — that is, all heavy, all the time — they gave the evening a vicious, intense start and bludgeoned ferociously as if throwing down a gauntlet to anyone who might dare pick it up, earning their punctuation all the while.
To be perfectly honest, I was kind of dreading seeing Oregon’s Black Pussy again. Not because they suck. Actually, just the opposite. If they sucked, fine. You write them off as a shitty band with a shitty attention-grab of a name and you move on. But because they’re actually good, and because they put so much attention into the details of their presentation — from drummer Dean Carrol‘s near-manic smile as he plays to the all-Sunn backline, to bellbottoms and vintage shirts on guitarist Ryan McIntire, organist Chief O’Dell and bassist Aaron Poplin, to guitarist/vocalist Dustin Hill‘s sunglasses and apparent unwillingness to keep his tongue in his mouth while he sings — you can’t just ignore them. I decided early in the set that from here on out I’d refer to the band as Five White Dudes in a Band Called Black Pussy, and so I will. Five White Dudes in a Band Called Black Pussy were solid, and I recognized several tracks from earlier-2015’s Magic Mustache (review here), the Queens of the Stone Age-style bounce and warm but still heavy roll, but you pretty much have to put a douchebaggery-filter on to watch them and get any sense of enjoyment out of it. At least if they’d called themselves White Cock you’d be able to say it was vaguely subversive. As it is, they’re just a bummer, and the more I see of them, the more that becomes a palpable reality. Don’t think it’s a racist or sexist name? Think it’s cool and ironic and not at all reinforcing white supremacy or the colonization of black bodies? Think the internet is populated by overly PC “social justice warriors?” Fine. You’re wrong and I don’t give a fuck. Think for a second about what you’re defending. Or don’t. Start your own website instead, and pine for the days when white people could be blatantly racist without being told they should feel bad about it. Have fun with that.
Hamburg duo Mantar — vocalist/guitarist Hanno and drummer/vocalist Erinc — arrived in Brooklyn having already made an impression on this tour. I’d heard from several people in other cities who’d been pleasantly surprised by the two-piece’s blend of thickened doom tone and raw metal. They had some technical difficulties at the beginning of the set, something about the power cable into the D.I. box, but once they started, they were zero-to-100 almost immediately, Hanno spitting his lyrics at Erinc from across the stage while the drummer, arranged with his side to the crowd, crashed and slammed away a propulsive course. There were elements of Celtic Frost at their roughest, and a touch of High on Fire and the Melvins in “Astral Kannibal,” but wherever they went sonically, the core of what they were doing was the punishment of their delivery, veins popping out on Hanno‘s neck as he shouted up to his microphone. With just the two of them on the stage, there was plenty of room to thrash around, and Hanno took advantage, switching between different channels in the backlined rig, Orange heads and cabinets set up on both sides of the stage, revealed when Five White Dudes in a Band Called Black Pussy removed their Sunns — it was an evening of expensive-looking gear — used to get both bass and guitar tones out of the guitar. It was unfortunate that their set got cut short and they were visibly frustrated, but assured the room they would be back and would hopefully be able to play longer next time around. I couldn’t imagine it had been an easy tour with routing that basically took them across the country and back, but Mantar did well in the direct-support slot and the punk-rooted dynamic between Erinc and Hanno was evident even as I was relatively unfamiliar with the band.
Word was that at least some of those Orange stacks had been used in Sleep‘s recent Atlanta show. To have them subsequently carried by Conan on their first run through the US — it surely won’t be their last — seems a fitting inheritance. Conan guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis is the sole remaining founder of the band, and over the course of 2014, he brought on bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding, also producer for not only Conan but also the likes of Electric Wizard, Primordial, etc., and drummer Rich Lewis, so while Conan released their second album last year in the form of their Napalm Records debut, Blood Eagle (review here), they’re essentially a new band. Lewis, who is a man of many cymbals, is the latest addition, but they’ve toured with this lineup before, and coming toward the end of this stint as well, they were duly crisp in their delivery of what has developed into one of the heaviest aesthetics in the world. Hyperbole? Yes, but Conan warrant speaking in absolutes. Opening with “Crown of Talons,” they immediately set the place to a steady rumble and did not relent for the duration of their time on stage, Blood Eagle cuts like “Foehammer” and “Total Conquest” joined by “Hawk as Weapon” from 2012’s Monnos (review here) and “Satsumo” from their landmark 2010 Horseback Battle Hammer EP (review here), as well as a new song that worked in a middle pace to further the overbearing impression of their riff-led pummel. Davis and Fielding traded shouts, the latter almost with a Godfleshy burl, and managed to cut through the tones while Lewis nailed the snare work and quick changes in “Foehammer.” My usual modus is to hang out up front for a couple songs, take pictures and then fall back and enjoy the rest of a set from in back of the crowd, but Conan held me front and center for the duration, headbangers to the left of me, drunken staggering to the right, volume over top and crushing down. It was a brutal push through some of the highlights of their growing catalog, but their set also got cut short on curfew accounts. They wrapped up amid calls for one more song, thanked the crowd, said they’d be back, and took centerstage for a quick photo to mark the occasion, urged by some jerk who’d been taking pictures the whole time.
Speaking of, I owe a particular thanks to respected videographer Frank Huang. At the start of the show, I turned on my camera only to find I had no memory card in it, and Frank came to my rescue by letting me borrow a spare. When the show was over, I immediately dumped the photos onto my laptop, which I had in my car because I was slated for a post-gig two-hour drive to Connecticut, where I’d be crashing for the night to continue to Massachusetts on Saturday. Epic in a whole different way. I got in around 3AM with the lumbering “Crown of Talons” still stuck in my head, where it has remained since.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.