Conan

support Suma
author AP date 19/10/18 venue Stengade, Copenhagen, DEN

The second instalment in our doom series this past week was the concert featuring Liverpool’s Conan, who would be giving their latest album, “Existential Void Guardian”, its Danish live début in the dingy confines of Stengade, which, with the imminent closure of KB18, is set to become the go-to venue in Copenhagen when booking doom and stoner bands in the future. Plenty of people have showed up for the occasion — so many, in fact, that I am surprised not to have spotted a ‘sold out’ sign hanging by the door as I’d entered — all eager to profess their love for possibly the heaviest trio the genre has to offer. But before the impending earthquake, there is the Swedish psychedelic doom metal quartet Suma to consider.

All photos courtesy of Philip B. Hansen

Suma

Suma’s labeling their music hallucinatory is no gimmick. Like Ufomammut, the band makes use of an atavistic, almost tribal style of drumming, circular riffs, and a surfeit of pedal, sample and keyboard effects to generate their heavy cosmic trips. And they are trips the audience happily indulge in, not really watching as much as staring through the Malmö-based act in a trancelike state. Suma ensure the persistence of this state both by cranking their amplifiers up to a savaging volume, and by never truly leaving breathing breaks in between their songs, filling up the transitions with frenetically struck cymbals and swathes of prismatic effects instead. In doing so, the four musicians render these 40 minutes more than a concert; it becomes a carefully concocted journey ‘into the vortex’, as the band so aptly puts it — one that holds me in wide-eyed awe for its entire duration. I cannot speak for everyone of course, but for me the nature of Suma’s music removes the need for a performance in the conventional sense. One would have to be quite creative to ascribe words like ‘energy’ or ‘showmanship’ to the way this Swedish quartet carries itself on stage, the shoegazing guitarist churning out his riffs on stage right, the bassist sending ripples of rumble and urgently yelled vocals from stage left, and the keyboardist hovering behind the drummer like some sort of twisted bandmaster. Common to all of them is their limited movement and lack of interaction with the audience — a disassociation that makes Suma’s music feel so hypnotising, and even transcendental at times. An excellent showing thus, from one of the most fiercely independent artists the doom metal genre has to offer.

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Conan

As Conan start lumbering their way through their first song of the evening, “Prosper on the Path”, I am honestly wondering why the Scousers have not made the transition to using seven- or eight-string guitars yet. Clearly, the trio’s intention is to forge a reputation as one of the heaviest bands in existence, and judging by the feeling in the pit of my stomach and the way my skin is vibrating from the combination of Jon Davis striking his guitar and Chris Fielding laying down slabs of bass, they are well underway to achieving that goal. Arguably, the slow and repetitive nature of Conan’s music renders it unsuited to longer concerts such as their 13-track salvo tonight, with only a few songs like “Throne of Fire” mutinying by adopting an almost hardcore punk-style tempo at times. But it is also hard to deny the entrancing quality of the really slow and dirty cuts such as “Gravity Chasm” and “Hawk as Weapon”, both of which practically make a mockery of the very concept of rhythm. Indeed, much of what Conan have in store for us this evening sounds like anti-music, and those members of the audience (if any) who naïvely turned up expecting to hear something a bit more melancholy and grandiose (as per the traditional understanding of doom metal) have been given a rude awakening by the time “Battle in the Swamp” brings the show to a conclusion.

Conan’s monotonous, primal take on stoner-doom metal leaves me at a loss for words, too, but in a positive way. The sheer weight of the music and the hair-raising volume at which it is offered to us makes resistance futile; like some sort of natural calamity, your only choice is to ride it out and hope to emerge from it unscathed. In that sense, the likes of “Vexxagon” and “Foehammer” are actually pretty arresting despite their primitive style — especially when paired with the slow, caveman-like movements of Davis and Fielding upfront, and the atavistic furor with which Johnny King pounds his drums behind them. For me, Conan’s live performances are nonetheless best to experience infrequently, allowing sufficient time in between one concert and the next to recover, partially forget, and then be astonished once again by how crushing this trio really is. Once again, I am thus left with mixed feelings; the aesthete in me laments the lack of… well, aesthetics in their music, but the primate in me just wants to guzzle down cheap lagers, bang my head and roar at the top of my lungs.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Prosper on the Path
  • 02. Eye to Eye to Eye
  • 03. Gravity Chasm
  • 04. Throne of Fire
  • 05. Horns for Teeth
  • 06. Vexxagon
  • 07. Foehammer
  • 08. Volt Thrower
  • 09. Hawk as Weapon
  • 10. Satsumo
  • 11. Total Conquest
  • 12. Battle in the Swamp

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