Review: Brady Irwin
Photos: Jose Sanchez

In the day and age where technology is treated with almost religious fervour, and the ensuing pace can leave one bereft of stillness, tonight’s double header was a crushingly meditative exercise in modern metal mindfulness. 

Opening the show with purposive and crushing death-doom, Whitehorse stood abreast of a rapidly filling chamber of devotees clamouring for an early spot.

Slow, deliberate death doom is all that can be said of this monster opener. A hugely present and impressively bearded singer growled, fist thrusted and belted out pained, distant shrieks, the mic held at distance with a  threatening gaze locked into crowd. 

Aside the stocky frontman was an endlessly windmilling array of similarly-hairy humans, pumping out Eyehategod with a deftly nasty noise and industrial touch. By the end of their weighty, leviathan-sized set of beefed out death-doom, the crowd were appreciably warmed up.

However, as Bell Witch took to the stage, those not in the know (almost nobody, we’d wager, gathered by the absolute wall-to-wall sardine packing of punters) were treated to an entirely sublime difference in mood. With the opening sombre low-slung five-stringed refrains of bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond, there was a carefully appreciative applause. Holding his weapon in place with a crab-like grip, the fretted half of the dynamic duo spent his set weaving a minimalist but skillful tapestry of chordal tones, mainly through painstakingly slowly crafted two-handed tapping.

The drummer/vocalist Jesse Shriebman sat completely hunched over, initially unmoving. Holding sticks aloft in grandiose swings that whirled throughout the performance in thick and slow motion, as the beautifully lengthy meditation that is Mirror Reaper echoed into eternity, the slow and deliberate addition of shiny synth samples, impossibly slow death growls and drum hits by the other half acted as a clear juxtaposition to the bandmates’ prayer-like sustained hums and vocal refrains. Lurching impossibly slowly, the audience was largely, save for a few requisite drunken louts, held captive as moths to the flame of a funeral death doom dream.

Not going to lie, as a one-track near-hour set, it was a necessary exercise in patience, which many broke up with smartphone and bar compulsions. Many more demonstrated staying power, however, transfixed until the climactic ending to raucous applause.

Bookending the night of thick riff-Hell with absolute power, brevity, and certainty, Conan swept the sonic malaise abruptly clean in the utterly loudest performance this reviewer has ever heard in an indoor venue, even topping the ‘Sabbath, an obvious influence. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to assume those who had endured this set sans earplugs will doubtless have actually suffered a degree of hearing loss.

Through the staunch wall of amps, came the surefooted barks, screams and cries of vocalist-guitarist Jon Davis. Slumped in eternal headbangery was his fretted compatriot Chris Fielding on bass, hooded and meditative in the swirling morass of High on Fire style tinnitus inducing, southern fried sludgey doom.

Wailing screams of feedback and thrash tempo sections by singer/guitarist and stampeding drummer Johnny King alike kept the harshness to a point in between just plain fun Kyuss-styled riffs, and open string power chord chug fests that conjured mental imagery of death by trampling. With a proverbial-eating grin it would seem, judging by the snapping sea of necks and sloshing beer. Blasting and towering over the audience, larger than life in sub-octaves and cavernous tones reaching deeper than the Mariana Trench, it was clear Conan were taking no prisoners. Grinning, headbanging and constantly appreciative, however, it was also clear the band were as much about delivering skull-crushing, primal power as maintaining the proud, fun-loving bravado of their beloved heavy metal. Filling out the night with a bevy of old and new material, by the time the UK lords closed things out, there were no air particles left decimated, no unsmiling mouths and no ears of clear hearing.

Indeed, tonight was a multimodal doom assault on the senses, and an important reminder that guitar histrionics, flashy programmed electronics and chin-stroking intellectualism were not the core of what drove the masses here tonight in reverence. At its heart, tonight was an important reminder of the thundering reverberations of the heavy metal spirit, a deep and visceral force that lies within us.