Conjurer - 'Mire'
The vital relationship between the West Midlands and metal is understood by even the most part-time of metal aficionados. For it was in the streets of Birmingham, under the clouds of industrialisation's belching smog, that Tony Iommi first tried his hand at distorting blues riffs; the unpredictable first steps of a challenging new art form and sub-culture. Some might see it as fitting, then, that as we mourn the recent departure of the godfathers, the progenitors, that our spirits are roundly lifted by a debut full length from a band located not too far from metal's birthplace itself. Enter: Conjurer.
Even prior to the release of whopping debut single, The Mire, there had been whisperings along the metal grapevine that something special was on the horizon from Conjurer; a band that has steadily amassed a reputation for live ferocity, built upon the back of the excellent I EP. However, not even the most idealistic of daydreamers could have prepared themselves for the sheer scale of the step up from I to Mire. An amalgam of sludge, smatterings of post-rock and doom, as well as the rollicking and technical stylings of progressive death metal, Conjurer have, with precision and proficiency, drawn from each corner of their heavily-laden musical palette. Even still, what that short summation of influences fails to portray is the swirling sense of unease, and the down-right unsettling atmosphere, that is spread liberally across the album's 45-minute run time. All this taken together, Mire is nothing less than an outstanding achievement.
Mire wastes no time in immediately launching the listener directly into the drama. Choke opens by painting a thoroughly gloomy, doom-soaked setting before pushing its foot firmly on the accelerator and steering unswervingly into a volley of blast beats and sludgey guitar lines. From here on, the track is virtually all-out attack featuring colossal riffing (very much a trait of the album) across multiple tempo changes, with dual vocals, wrenched up from a decaying hollow of misery, both trading off and accentuating one another brilliantly.
Taking two tracks from the opposite end of the record together, Hollow and Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash share a few similarities in their approach whilst also remaining very much distinct. Generally slower in tempo, both drag the listener from one disconcerting musical backdrop to another via multiple genres, all the while displaying a world-class grasp of dynamics (of which more later). Hollow presents a glimpse of early 2000s Opeth, with an extremely satisfying passage driven by double-kick and a bright guitar line shimmering above another thunderous riff, whilst the various undulating passages and juddering climax on Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash make for a thrilling journey.
The album's second single, the aptly-titled Retch, roars along at a scorching rate; a truly ugly song, in the best possible sense of the word, that also showcases the excellent chops of drummer, Jan Kause. No-less savage, and yet nevertheless a very different beast, the album's lead single The Mire tips its hat to the "blackgaze" movement, with its heart-wrenching tremolo picking and desperation-filled vocals in its first half, before pure aggression takes hold of the reins for the song's equally-thrilling finale. Album closer Hadal is antithetical to Retch and The Mire in terms of tempo; with Conjurer's doom and sludge credentials displayed front and centre, the song opens with a riff akin to Conan which mutates into a gigantic, hulking beast; a sonic nightmare equivalent to nuclear armageddon.
Despite the brilliance on display in all of the above, the unquestionable jewel in the album's crown is Thankless. At 8 and a half minutes in length, Thankless exists almost as a microcosm of the album itself, incorporating the diversity of musical inspiration on display across the record into one complete realisation, whilst maintaining a level of cohesiveness and captivation that few bands could achieve. Again, Conjurer's grasp of dynamics is displayed expertly throughout, with the song swelling and contracting on a number of occasions in a gorgeous manner. The ferocity, the blast beats and the huge riffing are all still here, but juxtaposed against three elegant moments of calm which build repeatedly until they unfold into one of the most stirring moments on the record. Indeed, the song's greatest strength is its contrasting moods, as it constantly toys with hope and despair, ultimately settling for the latter. In reality though, the incredibly melancholic refrain of "Is it a sin to curse the life I'm blessed with?", seared into the song's often bleak tapestry, had signposted the destination of this exceptional piece of music from the outset.
Mire is a perfectly-structured and thoroughly engaging listen which, whilst drawing richly from a number of genres, never appears cluttered or disjointed. Indeed, perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the album sees Conjurer carve out an identity of their own, whilst at the same time remaining intelligible. That they've done all of this on their debut album is nothing short of staggering.