Review: Conan – Existential Void Guardian
What a time to be a caveman.
UK trio Conan add a fourth full-length to their quite impressive discography, which now spans about ten years and includes splits with partners in stoner doom crime Bongripper and Slomatics (and yes, I mostly mention this to be able to include the awesome cover art of the latter). With their brand of “Caveman Battle Doom”, they’ve spared no effort to reach ever new lows of fuzzy heaviness, and paired this with a trademark vocal style that truly made it deserving of the fancy moniker. However, their last record, Revengeance, has seen them experiment more with higher tempos, which before were approached tentatively, if at all. They pulled it off well, but juxtaposing this with their usual monumental style delivered at a lumbering pace didn’t always go smoothly. All in all, it was still a great album, leaving me curious as to whether a slight change of style was in the cards.
Long-time fans who were iffy about the up-tempo excursions will be relieved upon pressing play on Existential Void Guardian, as opener “Prosper On The Path” begins to flatten them with a low-end attack crawling along at about five miles per hour. Mercilessly and methodically, the thundering riffs pound the ground like some enraged behemoth. Together with “Eye To Eye To Eye”, “Amidst The Infinite”, and preview track “Vexxagon”, this song delivers what people who listen to Conan listen to Conan for, and it’s once again done damn well.
By now, the keen (and prolly stoned af lol) observer will have noticed a change in the way Jon Davis delivers his vocals. While before, his measured delivery of drawn-out screams would make it seem like he was yelling the lyrics from the top of a mountain, I now get the feeling that he’s snarling at me from a couple feet away. The lack of that odd reverb makes his voice sound kind of naked and less mighty, but he makes up for it by imbibing it with a more aggressive, almost feral quality, so that it’s still no less imposing. I don’t know if it’s enough of a change to assuage people who didn’t like his style, but it’s certainly noticeable, and I dig it a lot.
It also turns out that those speedier bits from the previous album were not a fluke. The guitar in the beginning of the second track already hints at this by being a little more nimble, but not so much so that it would necessarily be considered an outlier. This is a good demonstration of how Conan subtly weave new aspects into their sound throughout the album – “subtly” throughout most of it, that is, for there are outliers. Third track “Paincantation” almost comes as a bit of a shock; clocking in at 54 seconds (including about twenty seconds of intro), it sees the band move into grind territory for the very first time, blast beat and all. If you thought the shambling behemoth was impressive, the behemoth at full speed is actually a frightening thing to behold. While it’s quite the experience, I’m left wondering if there’s any point to this.
That song takes it to an extreme, but a look at the track times reveals that compositions have overall gotten a bit more compact. Songs would often approach the ten-minute mark in the past, but here, most are about seven minutes, with “Paincantation” and “Volt Thrower” lowering the average. Whether that title is a Slugdge-style spoof or not is anybody’s guess. Conan weren’t known for sillyness in the past, but then again, they weren’t known for songs like this, either. Once again upping the tempo, albeit much less dractically, they make their most distinct foray into sludge yet with a groove so god damn infectious it will haunt me in my sleep. Despite my love for their usual fare, this just might be my favourite song here.
Summing up: sound is once again awesome, vocals totally work for me, and new ideas are incorporated less jarringly, with drastic tempo changes being relegated to wholly seperate songs and not messing with the flow of the longer pieces. I’m fucking stoked and award this album
4.5 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets
Existential Void Guardian will be released on September 14th through Napalm Records, for whom this band is way too good. Digital here, physical over yonder, and news via the Zucc.