Home Gigs Gig Review : Conan Live Rough Trade: Nottingham: 12th November 2021 with Support: Gandalf the Green :Helpless : Underdark

Gig Review : Conan Live Rough Trade: Nottingham: 12th November 2021 with Support: Gandalf the Green :Helpless : Underdark

29 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

So, I get the call from the ‘boss’ asking me if I’d like to cover a show in Nottingham. Without checking the band, I said why the hell not, it was at Rough Trade, a record shop in Nott’s which I knew had a venue above, so it’ll be somewhere new to visit.

I then checked the line-up and to see what background I could find out about them.

Dark Metal, Doom Metal, Stoner Metal, in fact every type of metal were having a meet up and I’d just agreed to cover it. “GULP! This was a music category that I have had little or no experience of. The following review has to be taken from the aspect of somebody walking into the ‘Lion’s Den’ surviving and then trying to write about it.

I head off to the venue and the weather is miserable, dark and raining. I get to Notts and manage to park up in a tiny Multi-Story a short walk from the venue, handy in case we get the heavy rain promised later. I get to the venue and announce myself to the lovely chap on the door who gives me the appropriate wrist band. He notices I’m wearing my Motley Brëw Beanie as always, and remarks how Phil and the team have been sadly missed around the festivals this season, a fact that I passed onto Phil later. He replies, promising to be back next year with the tea and Biccies we’ve all missed.

The venue is compact, L shaped in fact, the smaller bottom part of the letter L has the stage at one end and the soundboard in the corner, at the other. This is separated by a couple of arches into the entrance area which is fitted out with several plush chesterfield type sofa’s and a few table with candles, the bar is to one side and the merch stand opposite it. Very nice! It has a cap of 180, I’m told and that 175 tickets have been pre-sold. Looking at the venue I realised it’s going to be hot, sweaty and very very close, 180 must mean to the entrance doors, the venue is somewhat compact.

Up first we have five-piece UNDERDARK. This Nottingham based band have just released their first album back in July entitled ‘Our Bodies Burn Bright on Re-Entry’. An album that’s dark brooding, full of fast beats, and what I can only describe as a powerful screaming vocal over the top. 

The band is fronted by Abi, a 6ft something, Mexican born woman, dressed in black leather, dark hair and a menacing throat tattoo, she quickly has the crowd entranced by her shattering, demonic possessed delivery. Its apparent that she has trained her voice to accept this type of punishment, as talking to her briefly afterwards, as she manned the merch stand, she didn’t show any signs of vocal strain. Impressive stuff indeed.

Dark and atmospheric, the band have requested that lights be turned off for their set, as Abi, hangs in the shadows, and then from the over-head beams in front of the stage, she delivers a captivating set. When she ventures out into the crowd, which she does a couple of times, the crowd quickly shuffle apart like the Red Sea before her. 

While Abi is performing, quite animatedly it has to be said, her band stroke their instruments to either side, eyes closed nodding like Churchill in the back of your dad’s car. In fact, the crowd floor staring, head nodding features quite heavily in to-nights on goings. 

The drummer spices things up with blast beats and an impressive display of tom work as we get more roars and growls thrown in with the piercing screams. The Demons are strong in this one as she ‘sings’ in a twisted tormented style that has me guessing at what the words or the song title could be. However, as the set finishes, they receive huge cheers and applause; this is a knowledgeable crowd who, very clearly, appreciate what this band has just delivered. 

Band: Abi Vasquez – Vox: Ollie Jones – Guitar: Adam Kinson – Guitar: Dan Hallam – Drums: Stig Waterfield – Bass

Setlist: 1. With bruised and bloodied feet:  2. With ashen hands around our throats:

3. Coyotes: 4. Our bodies burn bright on re-entry

The Venue is filling up slowly. It’s already getting hot with the antics of the ‘stare at the floor’, head shakers of which there are more than a few in tonight. 

After a quick scurry as the band clears themselves from the stage, the gathering fans depart to the bar for refreshments the next band, HELPLESS, a savage three piece, theyget themselves sorted on the very low stage. This three piece is, again set up in low light, with an over ridding green theme. The drummer must be in on the vocals as he is sporting a head mic, I hope it stays in place as he athletically pounds out the beats.

These guys differ from the first band in that they play a cacophony of twisted hardcore and grindcore beats, or so I’m reliably informed, and again this is overlaid by a screaming tormented vocal. If you were hoping to guess what the song name might be from what you hear then good luck. It’s a case of listening to the almost syncopated jazz inspired mash up of guitar, bass, drums and feedback, full of drop tunings and throat crushing bass lines.

However, the beat catches you stamping your feet and nodding your head in agreement to the wall of sound, pounding on your temporal defences. The slight variation in beat catches you off guard as pulsing and whirling sounds close the track and the set. I manage to get a copy of the set list, were there really that many different songs in that very short space of time?

Band: Dan Couch – Vox, Guitar: Steve Waldron – Bass: Russell ’Rusty’ Cleave – Drums

Setlist: 1. Worth: 2. Sinkhole: 3. Ceremony of Innocence: 4. Wraiths of Memory: 5. The Empty Gesture: 6. Another Sunlight: 7. Single File: 8. Time Worship: 9. Unseen Servant: 10. Focus Group Extraction: 11. The Great Silence

The third band tonight is Gandalf the Green (Stoner Doom Metal) they set off with a very heavy Psychedelic style extended whirling intro, but not for long, as this quickly descends into a controlled cacophony of repetitive roars. Again, looking around the room we have a sea of floor looking nodders, locked into the beat as it grinds its way through your heart in its desire to escape the restraints of the tiny room. 

A keyboard effect from the programmable pedal board fills the room with choral harmonies but you know full well that it’s only a moment away from ripping your head off and ramming unknown nasties into the blood spewing hole left behind. 

The psychedelic whooshing interludes are exceptionally well played, instrumental and tuneful. The drummer tastefully caressing his cymbals creating a soothing crescendo which is suddenly entombed in a tumultuous thudding of gut-wrenching bass as we drop into a dystopian world full of guttural roars and more demonic bass thundering. 

And just when you start to surrender your senses to this tsunami like, assault and battery, a hook that sounds familiar plays out, was that the instrumental part in Breadfan by Budgie, but then again it could have been the ending to Sabbath’s mighty War pigs; so is the desire to recognise something in this musical phrase. Throw in a clever vocal box harmony that further confuses, oh and let’s not forget the phaser and Wah Wah added just for good measure as the Hawkwind, Gong type likeness takes over briefly. Full of dark and brooding instrumental interludes, guttural vocals and psychedelic sounds, the set delivers an intellectual overload of overwhelming, cosmic proportions. 

Band: Andrew Flint – vox, Guitars: Jack Walker – Drums: Danny Wrigley – Bass

Setlist: 1. Origin (A new song): 2. The One Ring: 3. Abyss (A New Song Full of Blast Beats): 4. A Billion Faces

Headliners, Conan are due on at 10pm and still getting more folk gathering. The venue is full of all walks of life. In fact, I feel out of place in a pair of jeans I’ve only worn for two weeks. Tee shirts and hoodies are order of the day, emblazoned with band names I can’t read, pronounce or ever heard of. Hair is long short, matted and Dreaded, in fact a guy has just entered with dreds down to his knees, beard and a huge grin. Live music is great, I could be sat here in a collar and tie, and apart from a cursory glance, nothing is said. 

A reverence descends on the venue as we now have the headline band, Conan, taking their place on the tiny stage, they again ask for the lights to be dimmed. Looking around slowly so my eyes can adjust, it looks like I’m stood in a scene from a Hammer House of Horrors movie. Long haired expressionless statues all facing the high alter of sacrifice, I’m glad it’s dark, they can’t see the bewilderment written across my face. Judging by how rammed the small room has become, it would seem that these are the boys to watch.

They begin their set with a knowing look, no words spoken. Slow and deliberate, melodic and dark, oh my so, so dark and menacing, a wall of noise blasts out. Heavily distorted guitar and a stomach-churning bass, they stroll their way through the opening song ‘Krull’. Each note is allowed to hang in the air extensively before the next note follows. This is black metal doom metal, call it what you will but it is rattling the very toenails in my converse! Just over 3 minutes in we get the first line of vocal, ‘My Name Is Krull’.

The foreboding beat hasn’t changed at all as the words are said over the top. And then it drops into an up tempo bouncy little number for the last 60 seconds which has the head nodders double timing their efforts and then stops suddenly and as one, the crowd cheer and clap as one. However, this is short lived as a guitar phasing over a steady drum beats heralds the start to ‘Total Conquest’. This follows the same structure as the previous song except we get faster breaks, and a tidy drum riff which leads into some power play, not intricate or delicate, more, darker and repetitive as the drums smash around it, the song finishes with a proper growl from the Bassist.

Prosper on the Path’ has a shouted lyric ‘Your Life, What Life? Painless. Nullify’. I’m loving the open hi hat crashes that add a bit of light to the dark repetiveness of the guitars and crushing bass line, a floor tom riff breaks the monotony of it briefly before it all descends back into a distorted universe. A great drum intro starts ‘Throne of Fire’ full of twisted beats and disfigured guitar sounds.

This faster song has my attention as it gallops along, the drummer certainly proving he knows his craft, ably demonstrated as he pounds out the familiar ‘Flats in Dagenham’ tom riff as we start into ‘Gravity Chasm’ with its galloping triplet beat, the shouted vocal over the top combined with the bell chime of the ride cymbal, ghost notes on the snare and further ‘Flats riffs’ make this my favourite tune of the night, my head is bouncing along like the rest of the house, I have a stupid smile on my face as I actually acknowledge to really getting this tune! Go have a listen to the set list, after what’s gone before you’ll see what I mean.

Hawk as Weapon’, ‘Volt Thrower’ and ‘Satsumo’ follow, and again apart from a slight tempo variations again are built on the same foundations, drop tune guitar and Bass, distorted and dark. Full of foreboding and menace, the later has a tasty, faster wah pedal interlude before it’s slows right down again and dies out to great cheers from the room! ‘Foehammer’ follows which I have to admit I checked out on YouTube before I came tonight, I didn’t appreciate it then as I didn’t ‘get’ the vibe.

The considerably faster but short ‘Paincantation’ briefly sets up the last song of the night ‘Horns for teeth’. Again, the same as before a strong repetitive driving melody with the drums riffing around the backbone, the drums have worked really hard tying it all together. Thinking that was It I made for the door before the rush, only to hear the crowd screaming for more, as I passed through the door, I heard the band strike up again, much to the delight of the crowd. Down n dirty ‘Battle in the Swamp’ is the encore demanded by the gathered masses. So unprepared nor on the set list they pull this one out of the ‘Swamp’ so to speak, with galloping passages and a barked vocal this has the crowd happy.

You can’t get anywhere near the room as it has been completely rammed for the duration of their set. Those around me, including the door are nodding in approval, the merch desk has become busy as those who can’t get close are buying the T’s before they disappear. With the predictable sudden finish, the nights complete.

Conan’s style of Metal has been likened to shouting orders over a Medieval battle field in a Tolkienesque world of dwarfs and ogres. Short and sharp orders as that’s what we believe they’re used to hearing over the battle field cacophony, the distorted guitar and crushing bass delivering a regimented sound full of melodic despair and emptiness likened to war.

This band and I seem to have clicked, possibly because the lyrical side is more conventional and ‘fits’ with the musical delivery. Yes, there are a few growls and roars but they don’t make up the entire lyric. A great band, obvious masters at what they do.

So good in fact I buy the baseball top, high praise indeed.

Band: John Davis – Vox, Guitar: John Mcnulty – Bass: Chris Fielding – Drums

Setlist: 1. Krull: 2. Total Conquest: 3. Prosper on the Path: 4. Throne of Fire: 5. Gravity Chasm: 6. Hawk as Weapon: 7. Volt Thrower: 8. Satsumo: 9. Foehammer: 10. Paincantation: 11. Horns for Teeth

Encore: (by crowd demand) Battle in the Swamp

I’d spoken to a couple of the bands earlier in the evening, and expressed my naivety to this pigeon hole of music, they all had the decency to stand and chat and try to educate, saying the same thing, it’s all heavy rock, a mishmash of differing ‘dark’ styles that the individual bands brew up to their own recipe.

One thing has been certain and that it’s not come across as depressing, dark yes, menacing yes even intimidating at times, but never threatening. Tonight’s been an education to a darker side of the rock genre. Each band delivered a slightly different style which was notable and for most parts enjoyable, and although much of it isn’t my personal cup of tea, I leave having had a great night and a new, respect to this type of Rock.

In fact, I’d like to hear a lot of it played with a more normal vocal over the top, just for kicks mind, I wouldn’t want to disrespect any of the bands and what they have put together. 

As I stroll my way back to the car going over what I’ve just witnessed and dare I say enjoyed.

I can’t help feeling happy with my lot, the night is good and I even give a homeless chap some loose change, oh yeah and its no longer raining!

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