Conan / Monolith Cult @ The Roadhouse, Manchester 08/10/2013
The nights are drawing in and cold is beginning to bite, so put another couple of logs on the wood-burner and pull up a stool, and listen to my tale of a very heavy band that got even heavier. After a leisurely drive to Mancunia and short walk down a lively Portland Street, I arrived at The Roadhouse at about eight-thirty-ish only to discover I had missed the first two support bands (apologies to Nomad & Ghold!). No mither though, I was here (besides to see perennial favourites Conan) to sample my first live experience of the splendid new off-shoot of fabled defunct Bradford riffers Khang and their crustier living descendants Lazarus Blackstar. I am referring here to the mighty REAL METAL beast that is Monolith Cult. Their debut album has been out for a few months now, and I, along with many others, have been hugely impressed by the insanely chest-beating power of Monolith Cult’s rousing blend of gorilla-strength doom riffing and traditional rock vocal stylings. Indeed, I had only been in the building for mere minutes when the Yorkshire quartet plugged in and piled into their solid-carbon fusion of hideously heavy gloomed-out metalised swagger.
Big fuck-off slabs of down-tuned genius like ‘Sold Down The River’, ‘The Monolith Cult’ and ‘…Of A Dying God’ roared from the speakers like a hundred V8 engines and hurtled at our heads like sonic weapons developed by the CIA in some bunker back in the sixties. In particular ‘The Monolith Cult’ is a massively catchy riff that when coupled with the almost ludicrously strident vocals makes for a reet rock classic that should be playing NOW on rock radio stations all over the world (‘twould make a refreshing change to the usual anthemic blandness). None of this power would be possible without the uber-canny riff-wizardry of Monolith Cult’s guitarist Lee Baines, a man who has been behind the most viciously down-trodden opiate fused sounds in the aforementioned Khang and Lazarus Blackstar, and an inventor of the hugest and BLEAKEST riffs this side of the Atlantic. Baines imbues all his excellently tortured fret work with the dark post-industrialised stain of foetid and encrusted miserable-ism and is surely one of the most unsung musicians in the annals of UK sludge/underground metal/whatever-the-fuck-you-call-this-despondent-outgrowth-from-eighties-hardcore. Backed by his fellow stringman in Laz B, Izak Buxton on bass, and by young Damian Clarke pounding the living shit out of his poor suffering drum kit, this dread-locked death druid cannot fail to win the hearts of anyone who loves it heavy and twisted.
Monolith Cult’s singer, Bry Outlaw (enviable surname), besides possessing that Stonehenge-proportioned voice (that someone outside radically remarked as sounding like Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna), also possesses an actual stage presence. Now a stage presence is possibly an increasing rarity in 2013. Across all the many hundreds, yes hundreds, of bands I get to see every year, the vast majority, irrespective of how good their music is, do not utilise the fact they have the audience’s attention. Instead they let their chords do the talking. Yet I appreciate a singer who attempts to genuinely connect with the folks who are watching. Rollins did, Iggy did, John Lydon did, and Mike Williams of EHG still does. I’m thrilled to announce that Bry Outlaw gives a shit about communication, for the man talks directly to the crowd in his earthy West Yorkshire tone with more than a dash of both humour and warmth. In a sense, it doesn’t matter what he’s on about, although his hilarious mini-lecture introductions to the songs were gratefully received by myself, and a few others. It’s the fact he talks between songs. Waffles even. That’s what I like to see and hear. Someone who isn’t dispassionate or seemingly dead, someone who doesn’t want to hide behind the mic like a shy sixth-former. Monolith Cult rocked, suffice to say, and I wish them all the best and hope that they get to work on a second album someday soon, for they are too good to disappear into the murk of history.
I was trying to count in my head how many times I’ve seen Conan so far. I couldn’t do it in the venue, but now I’m sat behind my laptop I think its seven. And every time I see Jon Davis and company they get ever so slightly tighter and more polished, but polished in a good way, not a bland way. Leaving the Launchpad with ‘Hawk As Weapon’, which more than stirs the modest crowd with crunching might and ever-ascending brutality, Conan predictably demonstrate their battle-honed craft as a trio of unending sonic might. What a story theirs has been eh? Their subtle combination of pinpoint precision sludgehammer rhythms, traditional sword and sorcery imagery (with more than a dash of tongue-in-cheek of course) and almost ethereal vocals have rightfully earned the Merseyside three an instantly recognisable signature that is increasingly loved throughout the world.
A skull-bludgeoning ‘Battle In The Swamp’ follows, pursued by my favourite, the gloriously noble ‘Grim Tormentor’, with its fabulously soaring twin-vocal chorus of ‘Griiiiiim Toooooooor-meeeen-toooooooorrrrr’. How can you beat that? It was cool to hear ‘Satsumo’ and ‘Dying Giant’ too, off the now-a-few-years-old classic debut (yes – the white vinyl repress have all sold out on Head of Crom records!) that when released shook up the UK underground like a small earthquake. Like all fans, my real point of interest lies with what Conan are going to do next, and as they did with the Star & Garter show they played with Bongripper earlier in the year, they previewed two solid new tracks. ‘Foehammer’ and ‘Gravity Chasm’ are more than worthy additions to their canon – both songs show a marked progress in that signature sound of theirs, whilst also upping the power content. Instead of long and super-slow we get bursts of concentrated mid to up-tempo malice that is coupled with Jon’s increasingly psychedelic wah-wah sound that distorts and twists through insane pedals designed by foul-breathed technology-obsessed loners. Like many I relish with anticipation the next Conan album because this is not a band who will burn out and get lame, but three quiet and studious disciples of noise who will continue to evolve in their quest to bring quality to our throbbing ears.
On a personal level, it’s always grrrrrrrrreat (Tony the Tiger) to hear ‘Retaliator’, the track that opened side A of my first proper vinyl release (the Conan/Slomatics split) as Head of Crom. Back then Conan were on bassist number two, and with admirable will power were playing the length and breadth of the British Isles in order to push their belief in themselves. This number really holds the test of time as a supremely head-nodding cruncher and a damn fine closer to the evening’s proceedings. A forty five minute set of concise machine-like riffing and swooping trembling roaring vocals, all propelled by ingredient X – Paul O’Neil’s peerless drumming, and there we have Conan, who, like the mighty thewed barbarian himself, have risen from humble and provincial beginnings (Liverpool/Cimmeria) to take the King’s crown and to slay all who oppose their dominion. I’m sure they would have the blessing of muscle-bound crackpot Robert E. Howard himself, such is their indomitable will.
Scribed By: Adam Stone
Photos By: Lee Edwards
Videos By: Jez Walshaw (www.youtube.com/user/MonsterRiffage)