Conan’s thumping, doomy debut album ‘Monnos’ should floor you, stoned or not

I have a different way of enjoying stoner-related metal than probably most of that genre’s audience: I don’t get high. That’s because I never get high. That’s because I don’t smoke up. That’s because I don’t want to and not because of worries of getting pee tested at work. Plus, as a good friend once wisely told me, “You don’t want to pee tests creative types.” Indeed.

But I think it’s probably assumed by many people that if you listen to stoner rock or metal, you too must be into smoking pot. It’s the same way people interpret the audience for Satanic metal bands, in that if you listen to that style of music, you must be a minion of the underlord. Yeah, or people just like the music, you know? No one has to be sacrificing babies and drinking horse blood in order to justify one’s interest in Weapon or something like that. I feel the same for stoner metal, in that I can be totally in my right mind and still get carried off by the music. And hey, I have no issue with pot smoking whatsoever, I support, it should be legal, do it, do it, do it. It’s just not my thing.

So it’s funny to me that the first time I really indulged in “Monnos,” the debut album by UK doom merchants Conan, I was mowing the lawn. I’m sure most of whatever hearing I lose as I get older will be due to the volume of music that helps me listen while operating a noisy lawnmower, but it’s one of my weird absorption techniques. It’s how I get used to the underneath rhythms and melodies, how the song feels physically, how it rises and falls. Naturally, I gave the record many, many more listens in quiet rooms with headphones and in my car, but even from that first noise-marred experience, I was in full bore with what these dudes do.

Conan is made up of Phil Coumbe on bass/vocals, Jon Davis on guitar/vocals, and Paul O’Neill on drums, and they are a drubbing, punching force. There is something about their tempos and melodies that naturally makes you want to bang your head along to their songs. I don’t mean like Tom Araya. I’m too old to do that, and I would die. No, more like a forceful nod, because you can’t help but do that as these songs unfurl before you in a most calculating manner. They compel you to participate physically like that. They make you move. Slowly. Just like they do. I find that really cool.

“Monnos” also happens to be a really engaging album that slips in, does its damage, and gets out in a little under 40 minutes and six tracks. That’s perfectly sized. I find myself always satisfied with the serving portion here, and though my interest for more is piqued when it’s all over, I neither feel ripped off nor bloated by overconsumption. The songs are really strong, as long as they need to be, and everything works really well as a whole. Also, Coumbe and O’Neill are a devastating rhythm section and create a muddy, pulsating low end that you practically can reach out and grab. They’re awfully good putting up a foundation, and Davis penetrates that cinder block wall with trancey, chugging guitar work.

The dual vocals also make for an interesting layer. You can hear that on opener “Hawk as Weapon” as the sort of monotone higher vocal line and the lower, more gurgly growling act together as a united voice, sending the same message. “Battle in the Swamp” has an awesome doom groove that sets in and moves the ground, as some shrieks and growls add edge to the track and the heavier tempo lets the guys show more muscle. “Grim Tormentor” is my favorite cut on here and has been from the first time I heard the album sans lawnmower noise.  It has a bad-ass, thumping melody that bleeds like a deliberate beating, and the entire thing is a memorable trip that refuses to leave my head. “Golden Axe” pops in and lets some of the tension out of the room, as the instrumental is buzzy, sometimes intricate, and fairly minimal. It works. The final two songs are the longest of the six. “Headless Hunter” is a slow-trudging, massive cut that has a numbing effect and unmistakable stoner vibe, while “Invincible Throne” is deadly and hazy, well thought out, and sometimes thick with noise and hiss. It’s a great way to let this document burn out, with wafts of smoke sweeping into the night. Great finish.

Conan’s first record is a killer, and it sounds like it’s just the beginning of a beautiful, fruitful career. They certainly will appeal to the High on Fire, Sleep fans in the audience, but they have traits all their own and a massive underbelly that separates them from the pack. This is a thunderous force that may sound great if your mind is floating on a different plane but also will beat your ass. I’m excited to hear where these guys go from here.

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