Conan / Bast / Headless Kross / Bacchus Baracus @ Audio, Glasgow 17/03/2014
I’ll say it right now: I love Audio. Tucked in an alleyway, it’s the size of someone’s spare room, the bar is basically a few fridges with random bottles of spirits sitting on top and the flush in the gents’ bog is hanging out of the wall like an eyeball that’s been prised from its socket with a teaspoon. It’s as lo-fi a venue as you can get away with, but it’s intimate, the sound’s clear and beefy and for a night of filthy, noisy doom, there’s nowhere on Earth that’s more appropriate.
The ramshackle ethos seems to have carried over to the ever-chirpy Bacchus Baracus who, after a late arrival, have found that one of their pedal boards is playing silly buggers. Unfazed by the situation, Gaz A Riff simply plugs directly into the amp and storms onward, the weight of his six-string largely undiminished and the good-time vibes still flowing free. Much of tonight’s set is new material, the thunder of ‘Rock and Roll Man’ reminding the crowd of the good old days, but true to form, the new songs are outright beasts. They stomp along like mammoths in Doc Martens, Q-ball’s harsh roar and barbaric working of the kit taking a slight step away from the groovier rock of their earlier material but coming away with a sharper, more vicious edge as a consequence. You can tell a lot about a band by how they react when fate has them by the balls: Bacchus Baracus hoofed it in the shins then glassed it for good measure.
The sight of Headless Kross striding onstage in flares and 70s wallpaper-print shirts would likely have given some misdirection as to their sound but for their reputation, so most tonight expect high-volume, high-distortion tripped out doom, and that’s what they get. Glacially paced, there is an almost funereal vibe to their low-end-heavy dirges and the bilious yells of Derek Sexton, malformed by shadowed reverb, make for foreboding listening but they’re not without their warmth. Tommy Guffin’s solos have a gentle, all-too-human sadness that is wholly immersed in the blues, and when the tempo switches up they could give Sleep a run for their money in terms of spaced-out riff worship. Plentiful of beard, and of volume, Headless Kross could only be more doom if a sackcloth-clad Al Cisneros was watching Blood On Satan’s Claw in the middle of the stage.
Bast are my token ‘new band’ tonight but given my impressions of the evening so far, they come both as something in keeping with the spirit of the event yet surprisingly fresh. Still uncompromisingly slow for most of their set, their emphasis on atmosphere over volume and the tempering of their sound with some good old blackened filth provides some much-needed variation, even managing to squeeze in some blastbeats and vicious punk riffing between the crippling moments of isolation and desolation. While all of the bands tonight are three-pieces, Bast are by no means the heaviest among them but they are the most expansive, taking the flow in directions that go beyond what may be expected and crafting ambitious, immersive and strikingly oppressive blackened doom that, for half an hour at least, makes the room that little bit darker.
A lot can be said about the scale of Conan’s sound, about the tectonic qualities of their live shows and their unrelenting devotion to the old gods of doom – well, they’re all true. This is the primitive and primal soundtrack to mankind’s genesis, the wielding of fire and tools as expressed through the medium of sonic barbarism. It’s Blood Eagle night tonight, with a meaty filling of ‘Hawk As Weapon’ somewhere in the middle and while the album itself is a fiend of a record, the chops it has on it when it’s bellowing in your face with all the subtlety of a honey badger with a mace are truly fearsome. The surprisingly springy Paul O’Neil gives a varied and free-flowing turn throughout the procession, rumbling across the breadth of his kit with an unpredictable yet punishing flair, while Chris Fielding unfailingly serves up that now-infamous rumble with grim determination.
From beginning to end, it’s a stark experience, from the low-key lighting (though the strobing at the onset of Gravity Chasm is a bewildering moment) to Jon Davis’ pained and suffering yells but it drives home the point that while Conan are undoubtedly powerful, they have a dextrous touch that they’ve honed in the past few years and is now their choicest weapon. Horns For Teeth is a Hell-sent headbanger, a pounding surge of misanthropy and destruction that cannot be stopped or denied, Foehammer is furiously upbeat and invigorating, while Altars Of Grief simply simmers in its own bath of malice and feedback, but any one of these could be used to illustrate just how good Conan are at what they do. Even if they never change, if Davis roars until his throat implodes and his fingers shatter from violent exertion, they will always have this level of power and they will always be this devastating. It’s why a dilapidated venue in an alleyway in Glasgow almost sold out a show on a Monday night and next time they come through I’ve no doubt it’ll be even busier.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes
Photos by: Alan Swan (www.facebook.com/EdinburghGigPhotography)