I missed Conan when they came through on their first ever U.S. tour last year, but the general consensus I heard from everyone that was able to check them out was that they completely destroyed every venue they stopped at. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long to have another chance to check out the UK doom band, as they started off March with another headlining tour that has Serial Hawk as direct support. This particular run is in support of the group’s newest full length ‘Revengeance’, which came out on Napalm Records back in January and saw them offer more of the overwhelmingly heavy doom alongside some faster blasts. I had the chance to catch this tour when it came through the Ottobar in Baltimore, and Conan certainly didn’t disappoint.
I had hoped to be able to get to the venue in time to catch full sets from the entire lineup, but due to leaving a little later than intended and managing to hit just about every traffic light in Baltimore I made it just in time to catch the last couple of songs from Faith In Jane. I wasn’t that familiar with the group who hail from Thurmont, Maryland, but the songs I was able to catch made it clear why they had been chosen to open the show. Stylistically they fall a little closer to the rock end of the spectrum than the other bands on the lineup, offering up one hazy groove after another that led into some extremely catchy solos. While all of this was happening, singer Dan Mize delivers a gruffer pitch that come off somewhere between blues rock a la Clutch and some of the more traditional doom vocalists out there. It’s a mix that works well, as Faith In Jane is able to hit the grooves and solos that are reminiscent of psych and blues rock bands but also touch upon quite a bit of doom/stoner metal territory. The short amount of the set I was able to watch was tight and it felt like there was great chemistry between the three members, and I walked away impressed and wishing I had gotten there a bit earlier to see the whole thing. I’ll have to keep an eye out for when they’re in the area again for sure! On a final note, the band was confirmed for this year’s Shadow Woods Metal Fest and will have Scott Wino as a special guest during their set, which I’ll be eager to check out.
The next band on the bill was Hagerstown, Maryland doom band Fortress. I had seen them a couple of years ago at Sidebar, and really enjoyed just how crushingly heavy they are in a live setting. If you’re from the MD/DC/VA area and haven’t come across these guys live yet, they play bottom heavy doom that incorporates elements of funeral doom, sludge and some traditional elements to create a sound that’s utterly destructive. Like Jucifer and Sea of Bones, Fortress is one of those bands that likes to set up a ton of amps on stage so that they are so loud that it completely envelops you as you watch them play, and that’s part of why I continue to find them so appealing. To give you an idea of the volume, crank up any of the songs on the Bandcamp link at the end of this article on a decent speaker system and then imagine that tripled, and you have an idea of the deafening levels the group is capable of reaching. But the volume isn’t the only thing they have going for them, as the quality of the songwriting makes their performance just as appealing. Grooves stretch outward in an extremely slow, lumbering fashion, while the vocals come through as a harsh, abrasive pitch that just barely manage to cut through the dense wall of sound. This time around it looked like there were some equipment issues happening as the guitarist had to pause for a minute and switch out some cables, but the band didn’t let it faze them and let a high pitched drone fill the air in the meantime. Despite this minor glitch it was still an absolutely devastating performance, and the slowed down apocalyptic grooves and razor sharp vocals proved once again why these guys are one of the better local acts playing this type of music.
Fortress’ ear shattering doom was a perfect segue way into the two touring bands, the first of which was Seattle sludge band Serial Hawk. Serial Hawk’s been around since 2010 but didn’t release their first full length record until last year, the four song ‘Searching for Light’. They’re a good complement to Conan’s bottom heavy sound, as there are a lot of similarities between the two bands in the way they both stretch out riffs and let the air be completely filled with distortion and sheer volume. But where Serial Hawk differentiates themselves is in the way they let their songs sprawl outwards and occasionally give the audience a brief respite from the attack. This was evident even more live, as long passages of rumbling, bottom heavy riffs would stretch outwards for lengthy period of time before heading into some slightly more psychedelic territory that mellowed things up ever so slightly but still had an entrancing effect due to the volume of the instrumentals. Singer Will Bassin has a slightly higher pitched scream/yell that would sometimes get buried under the riffs, but he was able to break free during some of the more intense moments and grab my attention. Serial Hawk’s particular take on the sludge/doom genre is the type of sprawling heaviness that comes out even better in a live setting, as the ever expanding riffs are capable of fully engulfing you, and I definitely think I like them just a little a bit better on stage than on record. As was the trend for the entire night, the performance came across as very tight and cohesive, and it was evident that the three members do a great job of working in tandem to deliver a great performance.
After three great sets I was ready for Conan to end the night with a high energy, heavy as hell set and they didn’t disappoint. I had been unaware of this prior to the show, but bassist Chris Fielding was sitting this tour out so that he could focus on sound engineering/production. To fill his spot Conan had enlisted Renata Castagna from Samothrace, and she couldn’t have been a better fit for the band’s material. Sometimes when groups come from overseas and enlist American musicians to fill a spot in the lineup for a member who couldn’t get into the country or couldn’t make that particular tour it comes off feeling like a hired gun, but that wasn’t the case here. Castagna fits in naturally with the other two members, and her bass lines and backup vocals are delivered in such a way that if you were unfamiliar with the band you wouldn’t know she wasn’t a full time members. One of my favorite elements of Conan’s records has been the lumbering, dirtier sounding tonality of both the guitar and bass and this is amplified perfectly throughout their live performance. Every note hits you squarely in the chest with an immense amount of force, and looking around the room during the set it was evident that everyone in attendance was vibing off of the dense grooves and faster attacks. Jon Davis’ higher pitched vocals also come through quite well on-stage, as although they seem like they might be the type of screaming that would get easily drowned out they were crystal clear. Conan played a lengthy set that spanned a fairly wide range of material, allowing the audience to hear some of their earlier songs as well as plenty of cuts from the new record. Utterly crushing and engaging from beginning to end, it’s apparent that at this point in their career this band is worthy of the headlining slot and they make the most of it. If you’re a fan of this particular variant of doom they’re a must see, and hopefully the quick turnaround between these two U.S. tours means it won’t be long before they’re back. If you want to know more about Conan and their most recent album ‘Revengeance’, check out this recent interview fellow TO writer Peter Kotikalapudi conducted with them.