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Conan, ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ — New Album

After hearing the debut album from Conan, ‘Horseback Battle Hammer,’ we can’t help but wonder if the recent spate of earthquakes plaguing the globe might have been caused by the reverberations emanating from Conan’s U.K.-based practice space. Tuned impossibly low, they make even SunnO))) sound like the Chipmunks. If doom metal were a competition, Conan win … seriously massive riffs, walloping drums and perfectly placed vocals that sound as if they were sung from a mountaintop, echoing down like battle commands to a waiting army below.

The band eschew any promo photos of themselves, yet their MySpace page has no shortage of images of their various amps and pedal boards, perhaps an indication that Conan know all too well that they themselves play only a small part in the gargantuan sound they create. Noisecreep caught up with guitarist Jon Davis to talk about the sound of doom Conan is redefining.

Doom bands have been coming out of the woodwork in recent years. What do you think separates Conan from other bands?

Not sure to be honest, I have never really wondered if or how we are different from other bands. I guess in a lot of ways we are quite similar … three-piece, guitar, drums and bass, loud songs, heavy riffs. Saying that though, I can’t name a band that we sound just like. We have been compared to the Melvins, whom I had never really listened to up until we wrote the album. Floor, who I genuinely hadn’t heard of until recently, and some other bands. However, now that I read those comparisons, I have checked those bands out and they are fucking awesome.

Surely the gear you use is a very important part of your sound. Is this something you obsess over? Are you constantly looking for ways to improve your sound?

It’s funny you should say that because in the last 12 months I have done the following: bought an amp head, a 2×15, and a 4×12. Recorded the album, sold the amp head and the 2×15, bought another amp and a 4×12, sold that 4×12 and then bought another amp similar to that new one. Then I have bought a 2×15 just like the one I had sold a few months ago, and currently I am selling the two new amps and buying another amp almost identical to the one I sold just after we recorded the album. I now have the amp head, a 2×15 and a 4×12 again. The only constant is the 4×12. I have done all that changing around and as a result I will sound exactly the same as I did when I recorded the album!

The gear we use is definitely a very important part of our sound. I know nothing about drums and John can talk about his bass, but in terms of guitar, the gear I use is very carefully selected.

Care to share your gear setups and/or any secrets to your sound?

The setup the band has on bass and guitar is based on the following principles, tune the guitar as low as it can go while still maintaining string definition, then tune the bass down to an octave below. Play these through awesome sounding dirt boxes into loud amps and speakers to create the sound we have. I heard Zoroaster quoted once as describing their sound as low frequencies/high volume, and I couldn’t sum it up any better than that really. Great riffs sound better if they are played slower and louder in my opinion.

Some critics might say that doom metal is just a means for technically unskilled musicians to hide their inadequacies behind a wall of volume and feedback. How would you respond to that criticism?

That’s a very interesting question. If someone accused me of doing that I would agree with them wholeheartedly. I am not a very skilled guitarist by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe that writing a riff that makes your hair stand up because it is fucking cool is much more of an achievement than putting together something that ‘makes sense’ on paper and follows a particular scale. I play what I like to hear and the stuff I like is simple, loud, heavy and easy to remember. And by the way, feedback is a skill in itself … tongue in cheek.

I didn’t see any shows or tour dates listed on your MySpace page. Do you plan on playing live or touring at all?

We do plan on playing live and in fact we do have a few 2010 shows being discussed currently. We know in which months we are playing and which cities, but no more than that. When we do play, we will make sure it is worth the wait.

Is doom metal just a type of music or is it something more than that?

Another good question. I personally get embarrassed when people ask me what sort of music we play. When I reply with the word ‘doom,’ the people who aren’t into heavy music seem to think it is a joke and make cracks about the word, giving connotations around misery and depression. But those who are into heavy music get it straight away. Doom as a ‘genre’ is a category of music that, for me, includes down-tuned, slow riffs with thumping drums and some sort of vocalist. It doesn’t always have to be slow though, doom can be fast … in parts, but generally slow and ponderous. I considered this question before whilst driving an amp to the amp tech and decided to sum it up by comparing ‘doom,’ as a style of music, to facial expressions.

Imagine a smiling face, like you are watching a cat play with a ball of fluff. That isn’t the facial interpretation of doom … but then imagine it is the ninth century and your village is one day away from being invaded by a marauding army of unnamed foreign raiders. You have seen them camping in the woods a mile across the valley, the smoke from their fires break the canopy every evening and sometimes if the wind is right you can almost hear them sharpening their blades and you can smell their cooking. These people are going to try to kill you.

They will enjoy killing your family, they will enjoy f—ing your family first. Imagine your facial expression as you watch the blacksmith knock together the most awe-inspiring and skull-splittingly brutal broadsword. He binds the handle in leather and polishes the blade before handing it to you. Imagine your facial expression as you raise that blade to the sunset and in its reflection you see behind you every man and boy of fighting age, weapon in hand, scared s—less. Two of them nod in the direction of the enemy camp, and almost in perfect synchronization you all take your first steps towards the woods. The facial expressions that you wear at these points are the facial expression of doom.

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