Album Review Double Play: The Guns and Conan

We explore The Guns' self-titled return, and give proper respect to the power of Conan's 'Monnos' album.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

 

The Guns

The Guns

Smog Veil Records

Okay boys and girls, gather ‘round, its time for a history lesson. I want you to run off as many cities that were known for great punk rock as you can. Ready? Go!

Was Cleveland in there? I’ll bet it wasn’t. In fact, having lived in Ohio for two years, I can almost bet the amount of people who thought “Well duh, Cleveland = punk rock” is right behind Delaware or Duluth. Interestingly enough, Cleveland did have some very cool entries into the world of punk rock. The Dead Boys, Pagans, Rocket From The Tombs and even Pere Ubu all hailed from Cleveland. Another seriously awesome but also largely unknown band from the 80s Cleveland punk scene is The Guns.

Formed in 1982, The Guns was the brainchild of 14-year-old Scott Eakin (guitar/vocals) and his 15-year-old counterpart Dave Araka (Drums). The two had been kicking around a band with Eakin’s brother and Robert Griffin who would later go on to make his mark with Prisonshake and Scat Records. The two left that band to form The Guns and try to exploit the burgeoning punk sound they had been exposed to. Eakin and Araka snatched up bass player Sean Saley and took their show on the road. Well, at least they played a lot in Cleveland.

As happens with so many bands on the cusp of greatness, somebody leaves. Saley raised up stakes and hit it to Florida and The Guns limped on for a bit before splitting up for good. Right before his relocation, Saley and The Guns recorded fourteen songs. Being the ever-loving detail oriented collector bitch that I am, I had to figure out what happened next. Research showed me that the fourteen tunes, originally recorded for Cleveland local Trans Dada records, were handed off to Enigma Records through a friend of the band. From there it’s fuzzy exactly what happened to them.

Rejoice though my punk rock brethren because Smog Veil Records has dug up the original fourteen cuts from The Guns as well as some live material and cassette recordings and crammed them all together for The Guns retrospective LP. The album kicks off with “I’m Not Right” an anthem of self-loathing that perfectly captures the 80s punk ideal. Fast, raw, honest and dripping with attitude. This tune is to The Guns what “I’m Not A Loser” was to the Descendants or “No Values” was to Black Flag. 

Though young and unprofessional, The Guns ripped out tunes of such velocity and raw power that they stand toe to toe with anything else of the era. Minor Threat, Black Flag, Heart Attack, the only thing they had over The Guns was production value and a wisp of experience. I will warn you, this album is a slice of history for those of us who love that time period and the sound it gave birth to. If you’re anal about “the mix” or you’re one of those people that rage when the digital media isn’t at a certain bit-rate, then this album could piss you off. The rest of us can bask in listening to an album that should have seen the light of day in its time.

The Guns are one of probably hundreds of bands during the 80s punk scene, when DIY was exploding and everybody wanted to play fast and hard and for themselves. I love when albums like this happen because they bring me back to a time when music was just played for the love of it. The Guns and their bands happened before “scenes” took over and the idea of punk or hardcore got corrupted into a phase for teens like the buckle shoe or the Hoola Hoop. If you love 80s punk and hardcore or you’re new to it or you just want to hear it done in its most honest form, I highly recommend you pick up The Guns.

 


 

Conan

Monnos

Burning World Records

My band is heavy says the boy in the unreadable black t-shirt! HA, comes the retort from the guy with the long beard, not as heavy as my band. Still another young roughian from the extreme music scene tosses down the gauntlet by stating nobody is as heavy as my band. Well, you can all go fuck yourselves because clearly none of you have heard Conan. This isn’t just a band; this is a movement of the Earth. Conan creates sonic devastation that hits like plate tectonics on steroids. You think your pussy band is tuned down and rocks the heaviness? You have no idea what heavy is.

Outside of possibly Sunn 0)))), there is not another band that pushes the limits of weight in extreme music the way Conan does. The band’s first blip on the radar was the Battle In The Swamp EP but they arrived as a sonic force of unspeakable power with Horseback With A Hammer, another “EP” that consisted of four tracks in 32 minutes. Now, with new bassist Phil Coumbe replacing John McNulty, Conan mastermind Jon Davis has dropped their first full-length slab of slabola with Monnos. 

Let’s talk opening track shall we. “Hawk As A Weapon” is not only one of the best song titles of 2012, it’s also one of my favorite opening tracks. Hi, we’re Conan and we’d like to start our new record with drummer Paul O’Neil tuning the toms down to negative drop five thousand and then pummeling them as though he was sending messages to God. Allow those drums to shred up the bass low that is currently forcing your dinner to drop through your sphincter before blowing up into a riff that is not only heavy but also hooky as all get out. Imagine Kyuss but then slow them down by ¾ and play the song through mud made up of distortion. How do you groove to a weight being dropped on your skull? I dunno, ask Conan because “Hawk As A Weapon” does just that.

“Battle In The Swamp” is taken from the EP but Conan open the song up. The vocals are less buried and a fast section is laid in to give the tune some dynamics. I think the ideas for “Battle In A Swamp” were there but Conan needed to find them so they brought the song onto the full length. 

From there Conan start moving into Quest For Fire territory with “Grim Tormentor”. If you’ve never seen Quest For Fire, stop and slap yourself, then go download it. The film centers on three cavemen who strike out in search of fire after being driven from their home by a rival tribe. In one scene they are confronted by Wooly Mammoths and the most intelligent of the three cavemen attempt to use food to gain their friendship. “Grim Tormentor” has the same raw tension as the scene plus it conveys that primal power of the Mammoths. 

You know what Monnos needs though? It needs a theme to a Pagan ritual that happens at dusk where hundreds of black-cloaked members burn things to see omens of the future. No problem because Conan has whipped up “Golden Axe” an instrumental that loses riffs but remains heavy. The single notes played in the beginning are eerie, the tone coming across as sinister. The drums are played in a tribal form, underscoring the darkness of the guitar line. “Golden Axe” never strays from that formula and is one of the standout tracks on the album.

The end of Monnos is staggering. “Invincible Throne” is not only heavy and crushing; it’s also a touchstone by which other bands can measure how slow they play and how well the play slow. So often band’s slower movements are boring or they think that just playing heavy excuses them from creativity. “Invincible Throne” crawls at a pace that would have snails thinking they were cheetahs but it never loses dynamics and it never gets boring. 

Monnos is not just an album; it’s a statement by Conan that more can be done within the genre of doom and drone than we realize. Sit back and watch as other bands take cues from this album when writing theirs. Something as disturbing, exciting and inventive as Monnos is destined to influence others.