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Thursday, 25 August 2022

Reviews: Conan, Red Rot, Stiu Nu Stiu, Endonomos (Reviews By Matt Bladen, James Monteith, Steve Walsh & Elliott Spencer)

Conan - Evidence Of Immortality (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

When he's not making other bands sound like Godzilla in steel shoes, Chris Fielding drives those mountain levelling grooves in British doom legends Conan. Along with the fuzzing downtuned guitar and raw roar of Jon Davis and the wall shaking battery of Johnny King they have been trying to make ear drums bleed for years now, Evidence Of Immortality is the follow up to their 2018 album Existential Void Guardian and continues to cement Conan as one of the most important UK doom bands of the new Millennium. 

The 2018 record saw them reach new heights (and lows) in their songwriting and their fifth album is again a raging torrent of crushing riffage, vicious vocal lines and songs about "victory, defeat, loss, hope, pain, determination, feat and hatred" Jon Davis explains, the album was recorded between 2019 and 2021 a time of massive turmoil that Conan want to both reflect but also detract from as the album again takes inspiration from classic fantasy movies. They are taking themselves forward, while retaining all of the trademark Conan influences of syncopated, steamrolling power chords and also opening up to history with former bass player Dave Perry appearing on Grief Sequence with some eerie Stranger Things like synths. 

It's a creeping end to what is a heavy as hell album which gets going with the 10 minutes of doomy, dirge evoking everything Conan are about. From A Cleaved Head No Longer PlotsLevitation Hoax is more brutalist with lots of hardcore aggression before the grooves swing back for the propulsive Ritual Of Anonymity which gets very blackned at times. Evidence Of Immortality is Conan continuing to release the best and most varied material of their career. It's heavy yes but dynamic too, the main reason why Conan are held in such high acclaim, Caveman Doom still rules! 9/10

Red Rot - Mal De Vivre (Svart Records) [James Monteith]

The debut album from the continent-spanning, borderline supergroup Red Rot, was a very interesting listen indeed. Half-Italian, half-Californian, Red Rot draws influence from myriad sources while still managing to create a sound that is very much their own. Unfortunately, this sound is not, - in my humble opinion - a particularly compelling one. Built on a foundation of atmospheric, progressive, extreme metal (there are elements of black and death metal in equal measure here), Red Rot put their own unique spin on things more often than not, creating an odd mixture of jagged semi-grooves and meandering, darkly psychedelic guitar passages which, sadly, never seem to go anywhere interesting - with a few notable exceptions.

The musicianship on display here is unquestionably impressive, with plenty of virtuosic displays of odd-time mastery and familiarity with theory. Prolific percussionist Ron Bertrand, (Botanist, Dawn of Ouroboros, Sentient Ignition) puts on a particularly proficient performance, with some very cool fills thrown into the otherwise choppy mixture of lurching double bass, trve-kvlt traditional blast beats, and open, half-time grooves. Bassist (and fellow DoO member) Ian Baker also does a solid job on this record, helping Ron hold down the low end and occasionally rising out of the mix for a badass little lick or two before descending back into the fuzz. Guitarist Davide Tiso (Howling Sycamore, Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches, Manuscripts Don't Burn) is, again, an evidently talented musician, but his particular brand of aetherial arpeggios and stop-start patterns just don'‌t do it for me, although I did appreciate his use of interesting and uncommon notes and chords.

The production here is pretty low-fi, but it generally suits the music well enough. It's nice to hear such natural drum sounds in a metal album in particular, although the cymbals can be a bit harsh in the mix and the snare tuning is not quite to my taste. Luciano George Lorusso's (Kestmorg) vocals are a mixed bag. I see what he was going for, but a lot of the time his monotone chants just come off as kind of cheesy, and his delivery coupled with questionable lyrics such as “something in the house, I can feel it!” on the second track, Undeceased, leaves much to be desired.

The biggest issue, for me, is that this album is filled with wankery: not the widdly-widdly technical wankery that you hear people complain about all the time, but the frustrating, aimless, “find-the-one” rhythmic wankery that plagues many prog or prog-adjacent bands. A lot of the time it comes off as undeservedly self-indulgent, and occasionally gets so bad that one might begin to wonder whether these songs were written with express contempt for the audience in mind. The material is very samey throughout, with little to distinguish individual tracks from one another, and countless passages that feel altogether underwhelming and aimless. The presence of several, one-minute-and-change songs with no discernible hook or defining melody is an odd choice, and coupled with an anticlimactic, instrumental ambient outro track that comes out of nowhere, leaves the whole album feeling decidedly unfinished.

In fairness to Red Rot, I feel like the - presumably - remote nature of the conception and recording of this album may have contributed to the scattershot songwriting on display, and that if all the members were able to get together and jam in person once or twice a week, they would come up with some solid, sonically engaging, proggy-deathy-blacky-metal. As it stands though, Mal De Vivre is a frustrating collection of good ideas and wasted potential, one which I do not imagine I will revisit any time soon. 4/10

Stiu Nu Stiu – New Sun (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Steve Walsh]

On this, their third album, Swedish quintet Stiu Nu Stiu have put together their best collection yet of a kind of spacious, open hearted metal that for the most part eschews distorted guitars and guttural, indecipherable vocals. As such the band could lazily be accused of trying to ape old school styles, but in truth they have a sound that’s wholly modern, the meshed riffs and organic arrangements easily forming the base for something that would be more obviously black metal.

Opener Styx has a great choppy, scything riff that drives the whole song but the arrangement constantly shifts emphasis to make the song a breathless gallop across its never boring 6 minute length. Singer Jessica Mengarelli recalls Amalie Bruun (Myrkur) at times but can turn on a harder edge that adds a nice contrast with her more ethereal tones. Founder member Kalle Mattsson’s bass provides the only consistent thread of low end distortion throughout and anchors the bands sound. In truth the album doesn’t really sustain its momentum throughout though, the slow songs, in particular Visa, can be lumbering and dull. 

Closer Dragon’s Lair provides a suitably epic conclusion and comes nearest to dissolving into a Black Metal swirl of distortion. By the way fact fans, Stiu Nu Stiu means ‘I know I don’t know’, which is pretty neat but it's Romanian, not Swedish, so go figure. 7/10

Endonomos – Endonomos  (Argonauta Records) [Elliot Spencer]

Bands in the tradition of death/doom and funeral doom are often plagued by two major issues: Muddy production that sacrifices otherwise great songwriting for atmosphere and overly long songs that don’t present enough ideas or dynamics to justify their run time. Fortunately, Austrian newcomers Endonomos largely avoid such pitfalls on their debut album. The production work displayed is refreshingly crystal clear and the songs clock in at an average of 6 and a half minutes, which seems to be the sweet-spot for Endonomos. The aptly titled opener Wither And Thrive rides - more so than it does coast - on discordant and melancholic riffs which recall Elder or Pallbearer more than they do My Dying Bride or early period Katatonia. 

The standout Barrier offers a menacing stomp and while the vocal trade-off between brooding singing and guttural growls is nothing game-changing, they collide to great effect here and feel more tangible by virtue of not being buried in the mix. Then there’s the album’s centrepiece, Atropos. This near-10 minute epic is surprisingly engaging throughout it’s run time, however, it does highlight issues that are more prominent deeper into the tracklist. Weary and Rejoice are by no means bad songs but they do provide a momentary lull on proceedings due to occasionally jarring transitions between their quiet/loud dynamics and a lack of memorable vocal hooks. 

But a few uncohesive elements are to be expected from a band that only formed a year ago. Ultimately, this debut benefits from finding grandness in brevity and the clarity of its often beautiful production. Endonomos have done nothing if not make a solid album, and it’s one which displays serious potential for the band going forward.7/10

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