CONAN – Evidence of Immortality (2022)REVIEW

Despite the focus upon consistency, steadfast methodology, and a commitment to a certain sound (and didn’t I mention repetition?) which they regularly receive in remarks from folks who are decidedly less engaged with their records Liverpudlian sludge/doom metal trio Conan aren’t some immovable, stuck-in stone and spinning entity when it comes to shifting along with the sands of time. Yet it would be fair to say that their insistence upon keeping their best-selling “read” simple-yet-effective ends up building expectations which make it hard to see beyond the horizon. In steeled approach of their fifth full-length album, ‘Evidence of Immortality‘, the question in mind as a fan intending a review as to who it’d serve to dive deep into their so-called muddy, repetitive brand of doom ends up pressing the matter up against glass, at least in terms of sussing out what might’ve fallen into the tar of most folks’ minds, that which that is worth pulling up and remembering. The result is nonetheless as expected, basically “Yeah this band still rules” b/w “their craft continues to improve in terms of variety“.

The way most folks my age bought into the stoner, sludge and doom metal hybrid form started somewhere between ‘Jerusalem‘ in 1998, Electric Wizard‘s ‘Dopethrone‘ in 2000, the conditional inclusion of the still elite and resonant Warhorse release ‘As Heaven Turns to Ash‘ and something nearby High on Fire‘s ‘Surrounded by Thieves‘ and well, only because it’d been marketed so heavily at the time. Maybe I left out your favorite record or whatever but this is a pretty broadly respectable foundation for what a group like Conan would’ve needed to have arisen in the mid-2000’s with various rehearsal tapes in working up to their original mode on the ‘Horseback Battle Hammer‘ EP or the better remembered 2011 split with Slomatics. We do see a sort of typical modern (for the time) fuzz-goaded stoner/doom metal extremity from the band up ’til that point and the mostly decided upon self arriving on the ‘Monnos‘ (2012) LP and though it might be hard to remember for some this band arrived as something a bit typical in motion at a glance but thoroughly considered when engaged with in earnest. ‘Blood Eagle‘ (2014) nailed their signature production values as longtime producer Chris Fielding raised the bar for the huge and hi-fi lunge necessary to compete in the explosive, downtuned, fuzzed to Hell, and somehow balanced caverns of stoner/doom metal extremity. Well, he’d also join the band beyond that point and serve to stabilize their output under guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ lead. That’d been the band finally knowing themselves and, I guess by most accounts there hasn’t been much of a budge to mention beyond that point.

So, anyhow, fast forward up to 2018 and from my point of view they’d always be a sort of “moderate recommendation” band for their sound, I mean ’til they’d yanked Johnny King, the drummer from Malthusian and Dread Sovereign, on board for ‘Existential Void Guardian‘ and this’d made all the difference in my mind. It’d been not only their first stepped-up breakthrough in terms of all-around ear-catching render and eye-catching visuals since 2014 but it was the most inspired Conan had ever sounded in terms of extending some of the melodic elements of the vocals (“Amidst the Infinite”), plenty of unexpected moments from the drummer’s knack (“Paincarnation”) and a properly succinct and impactful release. Four years later, they’ve that solid imprint to contend with in terms of my own expectations now fully a fan and having enjoyed most of their Black Bow Records releases. From my point of view ‘Evidence of Immortality‘ distinguishes its rub from that of the previous album just as much as it should without losing the plot on what’d made ‘Existential Void Guardian‘ such a triumph. It ain’t so much a leap ahead in succession but a well-considered work which uses the sound design and tonality as a foil to further perfect, if not safely on the same solid plateau.

While parsing my way through the full discography of the band I’d found myself falling right back into the same conclusion I’ve landed on in view of each of their last three releases, that Conan are essentially a surrogacy to all of the sonic realms and nerdy tangents bands like Electric Wizard and High on Fire can no longer satisfy with. This also comes with the realization that -this- is about as far as you can push this type of sound design and retain any sort of mass appeal, so, in turn they’ve tasked themselves with experimenting with the arrangements and vocal expression as a way of continually greasing the slow-turning wheel of doom. You’re not going to stop hitting your favorite roller coaster every year just because you know the thrill all too well, right? It’d literally be against the very chemistry of your brain. Not a glowing recommendation to start but there is something to be said for being able to pick up ‘Evidence of Immortality‘ and enjoy it from the very first listen, understanding that it isn’t meant to be challenging in presentation but (again) enjoyed.

Evidence of Immortality‘ is structured somewhat like ‘Blood Eagle‘ and ‘Revengeance‘ were in the sense that it features lengthier bookends as the record opens and closes with a fairly steadily paced set of experiences as innards, the major difference being that each song here is roughly two minutes longer. “A Cleaved Head No Longer Plots” is more or less the extended opener one would expect from a Conan album, a largely unflinching progression through a few riffs and a slight upturn nearby the end which does a fine job of showcasing the timbre of the recording and gives us the signature sound, stalk and distanced vocals one would want. I personally heard a bit of psychedelic doom metal oozing around within the the feedback and various effects threaded within (see: ~5:07 minutes in) but again these moments aren’t unprecedented with the full discography still fresh in mind. Where the blood begins to shake within its vessel inarguably starts with the rush of blasts which introduces the first single “Levitation Hex” which follows the opener with some fluidity but makes a far more punitive statement with some of their biggest grooves and a hook I’d suggest outperforms the catchiest moments on the previous album. It stuck in my head for a week after I’d heard it and serves as a fine example of how Conan‘ve worked their way into my head successfully once again. The third single from the album follows with “Ritual of Anonymity“, a song which dips into a solid ‘Blessed Black Wings‘-esque roll which (again) gives me the fix I’d been wanting beyond 2018. From that point on the next few songs will likely serve boon or bane depending on what you’re looking for from this band.

In keeping paragraph two ‘ready in mind, the eight minute bounding dirges of “Equilibrium of Mankind” and “Righteous Alliance” should read as super-sonic excess with respect to those classics and this has always kinda been Conan‘s modus from 2011 on at the very least. The riffs are big, the guitars downtuned to Hell, and the repetition used comes with precedence decades old. It is an appreciably extreme yet not all that abnormal form of sludge-heavy psychedelic doom metal which remains all about the riff. There might not be anything new to say about it today but from my point of view it remains an excitingly balls-heavy ton of guitar music which makes so much more sense with a very loud stereo and the right mindset in skull.

They very well could’ve tied off the album there and been done with it but, I think because they’d had excess time to pick through their ideas and have various breakthroughs within this finely crafted yet straightforward record the ‘Gods’ called upon them to serve excess in the form of “Grief Sequence”, a nigh fifteen minute closer which is not only instrumental but lead by a warbling, psychedelic space-charged organ. It drones on a bit like a funeral doom metal record on LSD, gets a bit video-gamey as it swells in various directions, and should have most folks hanging on every drum hit as it intensifies and releases in exponent. From my point of view this is a welcomed point of respite to finish off the album, a gathering of focus which feels pulled from both an emotional point and one which sounds like it developed within Conan‘s practice space, a meditation upon death that must’ve felt necessary. Or, whatever, maybe it was just a cool idea that had to be on there. Either way I’d found it added something extra alien to an album that’d already been a clean hit for my taste. All I’d like for the next one is a bit more extreme metal kicking on the drums, and some of that tripped-ass organ accompanying at least one song. A very high recommendation from a longtime fan, to the uninitiated I’d say start with ‘Existential Void Guardian‘ if you find this one a big ask up front.

Very high recommendation. (87/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Evidence of Immortality
LABEL(S):Napalm Records
RELEASE DATE:August 19th, 2022

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