By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – Having sacked the Aquilonian outpost of Venarium and survived the sinking of Atlantis, the Cimmerian warlords collectively known as Conan has gone on to leave an indelible mark on British doom metal. Forged in 2006, the thunderous war cries emerging from the Merseyside act have been heard around the globe thanks to the vision of founding guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis. Joined by recording engineer Chris Fielding (who took over on bass in 2013), Davis has steadily honed the band’s bludgeoning sound. Vacillating between slogging wasteland ballads and rage-saturated bombardments, Conan has conquered all obstacles and is literally establishing their own kingdom of timber and stone.
We live in a “town called Childer Thornton and we’re basically between the old city of Chester and Liverpool. Sort of in the countryside, but only five minutes away from the motorway, it’s a cool location,” Davis begins.
“I live in a really large house on a bit of land with a few extra outbuildings, one of which is an old coach house. When we took possession of it in 2012, I thought, ‘Why not create something that I can earn money from, such as a recording studio?’ I gave it the heaviest name I could think of at the time and it stuck. Skyhammer Studios. It’s memorable and rolls off the tongue.”
These master plans were unfurled with the aid of his longtime collaborator in Fielding. The musician and sound engineer has a huge resume; Napalm Death, Primordial, Electric Wizard, Hooded Menace, and numerous more have utilized his technical and musical skills. Therefore, the studio represents a dream that has been a decade in the making. An admirer of Fielding’s technical prowess and ear for heavy metal perfection, Davis is gratified that other groups are tapping into his impressive skillset via Conan’s burgeoning empire at Skyhammer Studios.
“I was kind of obsessed with Chris early on, it seems,” confesses Davis.
“But in all seriousness, when Conan was starting out, after we recorded our very first demo (Battle in the Swamp) back in January of 2007, we went to Chris’s studio and recorded what became our first album, Horseback Battle Hammer (2010). A lot of people you speak to will say that was just an EP and Monnos (2012) was our first album, because it had a full build-up and a press campaign. But in my mind we recorded our first album, Horseback Battle Hammer, with Chris in 2009 and he has produced literally everything we’ve done since.”
That was back in the ‘Dark Age of MySpace,’ as Davis puts it. An unenlightened era when Conan was largely unknown, they had played only a handful of shows, and none of them outside of their hometown. Wielding their axes alongside fellow Liverpudlian heavy metal acts Iron Witch, Corrupt Moral Altar and Black Magician, Conan eventually broke through the ice and into widespread recognition with their signature “caveman battle doom” onslaught.
“The thing I like about all of this is that we have a good story behind us, it’s not sensational, but we started out from nothing. We’ve never really had any help from anyone. We’re self-managed and we record and produce our own albums. When I think back to the beginning, I didn’t expect anything to come of the band. In fact, I had no plans at all.”
He continues, “When Conan hit the scene it came as a complete surprise to everyone and I think that helped us cement our position. It was like a cold-call and no one was expecting it and we took people by surprise. I guess we were a bit different from what was happening at the time and were able to capture people’s imaginations. And we haven’t looked back since; it’s been fun!”
Currently, the act has been hard at work at Skyhammer Studios crafting mercurial new material, heeding the need for speed confirmed by audience response to their heaviest and fastest offerings. Due to arrive in the spring of 2018, Conan’s forthcoming album will deliver a monstrous blast of momentum complete with fell vocals and deft stringwork.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re not a complex sounding band, but our music has evolved into something more. Gradually, as we’ve gone along, we’ve injected a faster pace into albums. There’s a lot more going on Revengeance (2016) than there is on Blood Eagle (2014) or Monnos, and yet those albums stand up perfectly fine in their own right. Seeing the reaction of the crowd to this totally new faster approach was mind blowing. It sowed the seed in me that we can sound really heavy, but not play everything at a snail’s pace.”
Fortunately, the trails of time and trials of fame have been kind to Conan, who assert that their forty-something metabolisms are just kicking into barbarian gear.
“As my body [is] slowing down, the riffs are speeding up somehow!”
Conan performs on February 9 at The Palomino Smokehouse (Calgary) with The Weir (EP release) and Monolith AB and on February 10 at The Starlite Room (Edmonton) with The Weir, Culled, and Highbernation.Conan, Culled, Highbernation, Hyborian Age, Monolith AB, The Palomino Smokehouse, The Starlite Room, The Weir