originally written by Juho Mikkonen
In short, Monnos is exactly the kind of album over which a sizable portion of the Roadburn market blows their load. It’s completely devoid of lead guitar. Its best riffs – well, actually all the riffs – are assembled of simple power chord progressions that require just about the same amount of finger dexterity as the palmar grasp reflex. The bass pretty much just follows the guitar in its celebration of extreme minimalism. As a result, on paper, Conan’s debut full-length seems to offer the perfect soundtrack for a sunny April afternoon in Tilburg, but nothing more.
On the other hand, Monnos sounds fucking gorgeous. Every vibrating string delivers a forceful oomph that puts more strain on your breadbasket than a camel’s kick in the gut. Every instrument seems to fill a huge space without smothering each other in the process. Interestingly, the most engrossing individual contribution of the album comes in the form of a furious backbeat, courtesy of the drummer Paul O’Neill, whose skin-bashing abilities are put into full use, resulting in one of the most intense drum performances you’ve ever heard on a stoner / doom record. It really doesn’t get more explosive than this, especially within the narrow margins of these tempos. Also, one of the absolute highlights of Monnos are the vocals that combine low and high pitched melodic yells (think of a less boozed-up, less outlandish version the trademark Urfaust wail) which take a backseat in the mix, creating an impression of a distant warcry emerging from the midst of a ten-thousand strong legion of miscreants. And, most importantly, this collection of six songs is enjoyable as hell.
With the aforementioned grassy mix of ingredients, the most obvious and lazy reference for Conan’s sound would be Ufomammut without the thorough-going psychedelia, if only for the fact that both bands have the ability to turn an awfully simplistic, power chordy affair into an impressive mini-epic by the power of the guitar tone. Unlike the Italian outift, though, this UK trio is not there yet in terms of making every second matter. As an outfit who rather stomps ahead than crawls on all fours (believe me, this is some extremely hard-hitting stuff), Conan effectively steers clear from backsliding into pointless droning. Yet, they do – for lack of a better transition – sometimes exploit the old doom metal diversion (re: the first six minutes of “Headless Hunter”), whereby they revert back and forth between two bar chords in an attempt to hypnotize the listener to forget the difference between murmur and a riff. But you can’t fool me, you wankers.
Otherwise – especially with such earth-scorchers as “Hawk as Weapon” and “Grim Tormentor” – Monnos contains very little of anything that lends itself to worthy criticism. By and large, Conan’s debut is already of such high quality that it would be outright arrogant to try to make a serious claim about it being lacking in some respects. I do say, though, that I would love to hear at least small snippets of lead melody soaring above this bottom-heavy beast. Also − although I do consider this album (especially because of its more-metal-less-stoner approach) as something that bridges the gap between pot-smokers and those who rather light up joints of worship, and a no-brainer for basically anyone with even a passing interest in doom metal − I wouldn’t yet elevate it to the utmost tropa de elite of the genre. And this is only because the biggest shortcoming of Monnos is the fact that you can live a perfectly happy life without it.
But, as I’ve already implied, you might want to buy the damn thing anyway…and then join the circle jerk.