CONAN "Eagle Has Landed"


By Dr. Abner Mality

Nobody fucks with Conan, that has always been true. It's true if we're talking about the brawny thewed Cimmerian warrior created by Robert E. Howard and it is also true when we speak of the band of the same name emanating from the murky depths of England. The late night talk show host? I'm not so sure about that.

If I asked you who the heaviest doom band around is, I wouldn't argue if you replied "Conan".  These lads have carved out some of the most primitive, primeval and lead-weight riffage that human ears have ever heard. It is truly barbaric music, without frills or pretension. Much like their Cimmerian namesake. With the arrival of the new Conan LP "Blood Eagle", handled by the revered Napalm Records, the time has come for you puny humans to fall beneath the massive boots of this brutal force.

Recently I met singer/shouter/mastermind Jon Davis in an Aquilonian pub following a Conan raid on a helpless village. Between gulps of mead and bites of blood sausage, he told me of Conan's simple theory of music and many other secrets of the fast rising band. Now I share this knowledge with you...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: HAIL TO CONAN! Your new album “Blood Eagle” will reach tons of new acolytes thanks to the deal with Napalm Records. How did this deal come about and were Napalm the only company in the running for Conan?

JON DAVIS: Hails to you. The deal with Napalm came about around February 2013 when we played a show in Liepzig with AHAB. Shortly after this show we got a message from Seb (A&R) who asked us about working together. At that point in time we had interest from a couple of other labels, but after some discussions we decided that Napalm was the most suitable place for us. Napalm have been professional, helpful, reliable and trustworthy and these are the things that we value most from this relationship. We are a heavy metal band...the less business stuff we have to deal with the better. It’s important that we don’t need to be worrying about all the business stuff, and Napalm have been great in that respect – we can just relax and focus on being a band, which is all we ever wanted to do.

WC: It’s obvious that you are sticking to Conan’s tried and true style on “Blood Eagle”, but was there anything different in the way the album was composed or recorded from previous efforts?

JD: Well, yeah, we didn’t want to adopt a totally new approach that risked turning people off. We didn’t want this to be our ‘Sound of White Noise’ or ‘Black Album’. Moreover, we actually really like how we sound, and can’t really imagine why we would change our whole vibe. In writing and recording the album, we pretty much stuck to our usual routine, but this time we had 10 days in the studio instead of 4 or 5 like normal.
WC: The band is focused on the most primal and primeval sounds…riffs, rhythms, even just simple tones. Is it possible for you to tinker with this formula or will you always be this stripped down?

JD: Like I said before, we really like how we sound and can’t think of any reason why we would mess with it so much. Of course ,we might vary things here and there. You can probably see that "Blood Eagle" has more going on than "Monnos" in terms of changes in tempo etc, so I guess it’s possible that other changes might happen when we record next. Our writing process is usually pretty straight forward and natural, so I guess if we’re ready for a change then it will happen naturally.

WC: Have you ever considered guitar solos or maybe atmospheric interludes? I always thought that Conan was a very “cinematic” band, where the listener can visualize the music.

JD: I’m not sure atmospheric interludes is on our agenda, I personally do not see how they would fit into our sound but of course you never know what might happen in the future. We do enjoy being seen as a ‘no frills’ type of band. We like to do what we are best at (heavy punishing riffs and make it sound as nice as possible (nice amps / effects etc). I’m not really a convincing lead guitar player and so don’t prioritise lead guitar in our songwriting but maybe if I practice a little more we could factor that sort of stuff in. You never know.
WC:The vocal approach is really unique, I can’t think of anyone else who does it the same way. Was this something that happened by accident or was it a very deliberate choice?

JD: I have always done vocals the same way really. I just try to shout in tune, an octave higher than the guitars. It ‘s my favourite way to sing and I think it’s the only way that works with our music. The whole growling stuff wouldn’t fit (and I can’t actually do it anyway). Our vocals give a vibe of urgency and panic and that works well with the themes we have in the songs.

WC: There seems to be slightly more “groove” on “Blood Eagle” than “Monnos”…at least to me. Do you agree and was that again a conscious choice?

JD: Definitely. We wrote tracks like "Grim Tormentor" and "Hawk as Weapon" on "Monnos" and we really enjoyed how these worked in a live setting. I think this definitely influenced the new album as there are plenty of mid paced heavy moments that sound just great played live. We’re getting much better at what we do, and are able to use dynamics to greater effect and you can see this on "Blood Eagle". Tracks like "Altar of Grief" and "Horns for Teeth" do shift about a lot in terms of pace and they’ll sound awesome when we start touring.

WC:How strongly related are Conan’s lyrics to the stories of Robert E. Howard? Are they literally related to the fictional Conan…or is that only a name that suggests barbaric music?

JD: You got it ,man, it’s just a name. We’re not obsessed with the Conan character any more than we are obsessed with the character of Talos in "Jason and The Argonauts", or the enchanted bow and arrow in the movie "Conquest" (Lucio Fulci). Conan, in one word, sums up our obsession with heavy riffs, simple delivery, heavy and brutal tones and unforgiving volume. We aren’t trying to bowl people over with intricate lead guitar or beautiful vocal harmony... we just want to slay, kill and destroy (metaphorically speaking) and with this in mind Conan is the perfect name.

WC: Are you guys all Howard fans? Any favorite tales of Conan or Howard’s other heroes?

JD: Yeah, of course, I own plenty of Conan books. "Gravity Chasm" is written from a scene where Conan chases some Acolytes into an enchanted chasm, where the rules of gravity do not apply, and there are other parts in other tracks (the lyrics at the end of "Krull" for example) that come from other Conan stories. There are less Conan references than you might think over all, as we are more into sci fi / sword and sorcery / mythology / Vikings fantasy / computer games and so on but Conan  is an important part of all that, even though he isn’t our main source of inspiration. I would recommend "The Sword of Skelos" to you as a great Conan story.
WC:I notice the cover and interior art of your albums tell a story. Does that story come across in the actual songs?

JD: It doesn’t actually, because we don’t normally get the artwork until the album is mixed and mastered. It does inspire our writing ,though as we refer back to the artwork for previous stuff when writing new stuff. You will notice that we always have this armored guy on there, like he reflects the band somehow. He has now almost become our standard bearer as he is on all our artwork. We always work with Tony Roberts for our artwork.

WC:  Is “Blood Eagle” an concept album? If not, is that something you would consider doing?

JD: It’s not a concert album, but you can almost detect some linearity between our albums because of the ‘Sentinal’ character who appears on the artwork for each one. I think concept albums are cool, and I think it would be a good idea for us, it would help with the story telling aspect of what we do. Maybe we can write our own soundtrack for an imaginary movie. It’s certainly an option for the future, but as it stands we have no immediate plans.

WC:  What has the live reception been to the band so far? I would imagine “regular” metalheads or those expecting any kind of speed have been a bit baffled?

JD: The reception has actually been great. Things seemed to be cool right from the off somehow. I mean, we played to small crowds at first because people don’t know who we are, but the more a band releases, the more touring a band does, they will usually start to attract more people and a better response. To date we have been totally blown away by the reactions to our live shows, and I guess people didn’t expect us to be fast since our first release had slow tracks like "Krull" and "Sea Lord" on there. The new stuff is a lot more mid paced of course, and perhaps that will attract slightly different crowds here and there. Well, that’s totally cool and we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.
WC:Any plans to play in the States? I would think a slot at Maryland Deathfest would be ideal!

JD:Yeah, we’d be up for coming to the States of course, but that relies upon someone helping us put a tour together. Currently that hasn’t happened, but we’ll see what happens. I know MDF is a great festival...maybe one day.

WC:  I would think Conan would be a great band to do a conceptual video of some kind. Any ideas along those lines?

JD: Yeah! We’ve just released a video for "Foehammer"". You can see it on the Metal Hammer Uk website.

WC: It may be premature, but any idea of how the band will evolve in the future?

JD: I really don’t know man. I hope we keep getting heavier and we get more amps….. I guess we might continue to get better at what we do, and hopefully people will keep supporting us.

WC: What was the last CD/release you got just because you wanted to check out the band?

JD: I think it would have been the latest album by Mammatus, they are one of my favourite bands.

WC:What was the last gig you attended just because you wanted to see the band?

JD: I think that might have been YOB when they last played the UK. I don’t get to enough shows obviously .

WC: Any “Spinal Tap” stories in the history of Conan where things went wrong that you could share with us?

JD:Nothing major. Although I did wear an eye patch for a show in France once. I had Bell's Palsy during our tour in Feb 2013 and it gave me a lazy eye. I tried to cover it up by using an eye patch and the photos from the show are just ridiculous.

WC: Last words for the faithful?

JD: Sure, thanks for all the support and the kind words. Hopefully we’ll get over to the US at some point.