Conan & Monolord

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author RUB date 16/10/17 venue Atlas, Århus, DEN

For the second day in a row, I find myself ready to bang my head in Århus. This time around, it’s a far cry from the speed I witnessed on Sunday at VoxHall, but the line-up is still very heavy and brutal — just a different kind. This evening the venue of Atlas (situated just next to VoxHall) hosts the stoner/sludge/doom inferno of the Swedes in Monolord and the Englishmen in Conan in a co-headlining setup. Both prey on the brutal onslaught of the bass-heavy spectrum of metal, whether it is in the form of down-tuned sludge or droning doom. This would prove to be a very fitting soundtrack to the windy Fall weather outside — although inside, it is surprisingly hot, as a pretty decent size crowd has arrived early, ready to bang its heads slowly to the evening’s first band: Monolord.

All photos courtesy of Hasan Jensen

Monolord

The trio from Sweden enters the venue to find it approximately half-full. The music is very heavy with a mixture of the quite distinctive clean vocals of Thomas Jäger and droning doom riffs, accompanied by rumbling bass and drums. The massive bass-sound, however, never compromises the songs, as the mix gives equal room to all instruments. Sometimes it actually sounds like they’ve backtracked explosion-like effects just to make the heavy parts of the songs that more intense and brutal – and it works! In between the tracks, a blend of pre-recorded synth and bass distortion helps keep the tension of the atmosphere. The visuals help set the stage too; the lights are as bleak as the music and typically switch between deep red or dark blue. And not many words are exchanged during the show; only a Swedish “tack” is uttered between each song. The three musicians follow the down-tuned songs nicely with slow and steady headbanging, which is also something that affects the audience. If one gazes around during the second song, basically every head is banging to the heavy beats.

Only a few brave souls have ventured close to the stage at the risk of being blown away, however, forcing a constant gap between the stage and the audience. This doesn’t take anything away from the gig, as this kind of music is meant to be both played and experienced live. It’s hard not to think of the more gloomy and heavy songs of Black Sabbath, as the vocals could easily have been mistaken for a young Ozzy Osbourne, with the echoing, distant effect added to them. This is further emphasized towards the end when an intro of thunder and rain arrives (perhaps a more definitive sign of the inspiration from the legendary Birmingham band?). One could only have hoped that people would stop talking during this majestic intro to really let the atmosphere overwhelm the entire room, but nonetheless, it is still possible to close your eyes and just soak in the heavy wall of bass, whilst banging your head to the rhythm. For example, the song “Empress Rising”, with its droning chorus that repeats the title of the song, almost begs for the entire room just to nod along simultaneously. This is also the song during which both guitarist Thomas Jäger and bass player Mika Häkki join the audience on the floor to squeeze the last energy out of everyone’s necks. Whatever the reasons for enjoying this concert might have been, Monolord truly make a lasting impression — both in my mind and in my ears.

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Conan

Next, a huge, projected backdrop appears and sets Conan off; first with the band’s name written on it and some flickering of white noise that looks to be linked to the heavy bass notes, and later with various clips from old movies, cartoons, and even the odd old video game. The cartoons look to be in style of the classic series “Heavy Metal” (which is quite fitting, actually), or maybe they all resemble the different takes on Conan the Barbarian in popular culture. Whatever the reference, what they all have in common is that they seem to fit the heavy music well. Like Monolord, Conan is also a trio, albeit with two vocalists: guitarist Jon Davis and bassist Chris Fielding. My first impression is that the band in question is much more droning than Monolord, but then we’re treated to something different when the second song kicks off with a more upbeat, yet still very heavily distorted rhythm (as on “Throne of Fire”). On other tracks, they go back to the slowly built-up structure, where entire songs feel like single, long roars of heavy bass and droning passages — both bands on the bill tonight are quite similar in that aspect. The vocals are likewise clean and perhaps a bit ‘spacey’, for lack of a better word. Where they differ from Monolord’s, however, is that Conan has a slightly more muddier sound, which makes the soundscape a tad darker and more ominous. However, this makes it equally harder to distinguish the guitar from the bass on some of the tracks, as the music is so heavily distorted. I will leave it up to everyone to decide whether that is a strength or a weakness — each to their own.

The crowd in front looks to really enjoy the proceedings, but the music doesn’t really seem to reach much further back than the first few rows — for example, the song “Foehammer”, which starts out as a very upbeat and heavy piece not unlike something written by High On Fire, but then eventually changes pace to assume a more monotone and droning beat in the drum and bass department. This is a great buildup and really underlines how well the band uses the doom element in their songs. When “we only have two songs left” is announced, it looks like everyone suddenly awakens from their doom-induced sleep, and yours truly finally manages to see banging heads all the way down to the middle of the room. The two tracks are just as heavy and droning as the previous offerings, which ensures that the evening ends on a ground-shattering note — or at least so thought both the audience and I. The crowd actually manages to cheer the trio back for an encore only to play a track from their very first album in the form of “Satsumo”, and now the remaining audience moves closer to the stage to experience this last bit of bass for the evening. Eventually, the band runs out of time, but manages nonetheless to exit with loud applause resounding through the venue — sadly, however, this time around they are leaving the stage for good. When biking home I realize just how loud and brutal the gig actually was, as my ears are aching a bit – and I even wore earplugs. I’ll call that a damned loud and heavy concert!

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