Monolord + Conan @ The Green Door Store, Brighton

Date: 11th May 2018
Review and Photography: Beandog

Just 24 hours prior to this gig, I had been at the pub discussing heavy metal with my housemate and my younger brother. Neither have a particular interest in the genre but we had been speaking about the fact that I was due to travel down to Brighton to watch and review the upcoming Conan/Monolord show for The Independent Voice.

“So, what sort of music is it?”
“It’s Doom, mainly.”

What followed was me trying to define the appeal of something that to someone who has never experienced it, must seem completely unappealing. I’m sure there aren’t many who would respond positively to a description of something that at its most extreme is slow (“No… slower than that”), long and repetitive with few discernible melodies. The anguish and the pain in the vocal delivery, the omnipresent themes of darkness, dying and grim despair captured in a sonic tapestry of shifting tones and weighted drums.

Of course, naturally, I mentioned Black Sabbath being the prime mover from which everything had developed and how, over time, their funeral paced tri-tone has been re-forged and distilled down to it’s purest, heaviest form. Indeed that was the one word that kept reoccuring: HEAVY.

If you can turn the word heavy into a sound or a song then the chances are, you are playing in a Doom band. That point being made, two of the bands that do heavy very well indeed are Conan and Monolord.

Fast forward to the next evening and I have made the trip from London to Brighton to see both of these bands for the first time. Tonight’s venue is the Green Door Store. It’s not a place I’ve been to before but as soon as I arrive I think it has an appealing atmosphere. there is a low key, easy going energy about the place, completely in-keeping with it’s independent, DIY ethos. On their website they make a point of emphasising the diversity of their roster and how this promotes their view of inclusivity and everybody being welcome. This positive ambience is only enhanced by a buzz of anticipation that is inevitable given the stature and credibility of the two headlining bands

Indeed, as dual headliners, Conan and Monolord both have a full hour of performance time tonight. Consequently, to accommodate this, the opening band, Watchcries (who are Brighton locals) are given a relatively early start time. By the time I get to the venue, their set has already been played. I feel disappointed, because the inclusion of their blackened sludge on the line up was an inspired choice and made for a perfect compliment to the dense, leviathan sized riffs that would be taking place shortly. I would recommend their Wraith album as a superb addition to any metalhead’s record collection. I make a mental note to keep an eye open for any of their upcoming shows and take the first swig from my beer.Across the span of four albums and several associated releases, Conan have achieved a sound that seems entirely otherworldly. To my ears, theirs is not a mortal sound. Conan’s music is the hulking roar of something ancient and awakened.

It almost seems inconceivable that the weight of their drastically downtuned riffs could be carried by men of this earth. So much so, it’s actually quite alarming to see the unassuming members of the band step up and prepare to unleash their massive sonic onslaught. Jon Davis, resplendent in in his Nailbomb shirt, Chris Fielding, who is wearing his hoodie pulled up around his ears and standing just in front of their powerhouse drummer, Johnny King, who is adjusting and arranging his kit. They look as much like shabby metal fans as anyone else in the room.

They seem relaxed and almost nonchalant in the comparitively quiet moment before they hit the first note of their set. However, when they do begin, they sound like they are firing canons in a thunderstorm. The capacity crowd have squeezed themselves into the intimate space here at the Green Door Store, drawn in by the volume; this is amp worship. Songs like Total Conquest and Hawk As Weapon lumber and crunch with a pummelling swing that frequently crosses over into sludge territory. This is particularly the case when the band picks up the pace for songs like Foehammer or the driving gallop of Battle in the Swamp.Jon bellows over the volume like he’s trying to drown out a hurricane while Chris roars out a fearsome bark alongside his band mate. It’s all driven by the intense clatter and attack of Johnny’s drumming to which the crowd can only respond by whipping their necks and cheering their approval until the set comes to a satisfying end.It’s an intense performance and for many bands it would be an extremely tough act to follow. Monolord, however, have no reason to feel intimidated. Their take on Doom holds a sufficient contrast to the thundering powerhouse that went before them. Where Conan sounded like the raging violence of the battlefield, Monolord have an assuredness and a monolithic warmth to their sound that comes from an overdriven, Iommi fuzz. Their version of “heavy” incorporates a sense of nostalgic melancholy that they captured perfectly on last year’s much praised, Rust album.

Any possible doubts about how such a unanimously acclaimed record would sound as a live performance are very quickly eliminated.Where Death Meets the Sea sets the tone with it’s substantial riff, countered by Thomas Jäger’s mournful singing. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine a tassel sleeved Ozzy Osbourne nodding with his arms outstretched, flashing the peace sign.As a contrast to this mental image, there is nothing peaceful about Esben Williams’s drumming. The vigour with which he strikes his drum kit ensures that the pulse of these songs is firmly felt in the bones of every person in the venue. This effect is delightfully enhanced by the low end volume provided by a lively Mika Häkki.Of the two musicians at the front of the stage, Häkki proves to be the most visually compelling. He sways and lurches with the music, lifting his bass and reacting to the wash of titanic heavy metal that we all came here to listen to. As a contrast, Jäger cuts a more static, mesmeric figure; limited somewhat by his dual role of guitarist and singer, yet still able to convey something powerful and captivating via his emotive delivery of songs such as Lord of Suffering and Audhumbla.Monolord deliver an outstanding set of music tonight. they have a keen ability to write stirring songs that feel sorrowful and coloured with sadness, yet they offer a sense of comfort, familiarity and optimism. A song like Rust feels like it has been in my record collection for years. When the band plays it as their penultimate track, I find myself acknowledging it as an old favourite rather than a song which in reality, I have only known for a few months.

Above all, Monolord have evoked the appropriate audience response. People have thrown their horns up and their heads back and forth to the weight of the almighty riff. Earlier, the same reaction was enthusiastically offered to Conan and ultimately the gig feels like a triumph.

It’s been a positive and powerful experience. I finish my last beer and prepare to head out into the night. I also resolve that the next time someone asks me what Doom is, I will just tell them about this night at the Green Door Store.

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