New Orleans is the ideal place to see sludgy, suffocating metal; the thick, humid air and stifling heat are the perfect environment for music that creates the same feelings of breathlessness and claustrophobia. Earliest in the night, Lafayette, LA’s Forming The Void eased ears into the impending thunder with their melodic, cleaner-than-expected brand of progressive stoner/sludge. Melding their influences, which range from Mastodon (who were the most easily identified upon hearing James Marshall’s vocals) and The Sword to Soundgarden and YOB, they stood out from their followers with their through-and-through stoner metal fantasy. Forming The Void’s riffs summoned a sense of adventure while the rhythm section beckoned them down a darker path. Listen to their truly brilliant and non-karaoke cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
Sometimes a name describes a product perfectly. Space Cadaver did exactly that with their music. They took atmospheric sludge metal and deconstructed and destroyed it, tending to begin songs relatively slowly and beautifully and then, in an instant, transforming them into battering hardcore/sludge behemoths that would just as quickly return to a subdued state. As vocalist and bassist barked vocals simultaneously, you were shaken from the once trance-like quality of the spacey side of their sound and jolted wide awake. Listen to their live Death Cult demo and imagine it amplified tenfold in every way. The NOLA trio has a new release on the horizon and, based on the new songs they played, it will be an absolute necessity.
North continued down the ambient sludge path that Space Cadaver had cleared. The second of three three-pieces, the Arizona group was ideally situated in the sonic story line of the night. Often compared to Neurosis and ISIS, they delivered something beyond the anticipated post-metal apocalypse. Underneath the monstrous vocals and bass, there were contrasting riffs that lightened the weight of their songs when needed and drove them into the ground afterward. The moments of crystallinity that shined through in the midst of the storm overhead (literally) were spectacular reprieves from the opaqueness of their sound. North’s ability to intertwine purity with grime was magnificent.
If ever a band’s name matched their sound exactly, it’s Conan. Brooding, powerful and primeval, the trio are known for their bass-heavy, epic songs that sit steadily at 100% for their entirety. It felt like the Brits belonged on the damp, pre-torrential rainy night in New Orleans (they do have a song called “Battle in the Swamp,” after all). They created an environment that was as spine-chillingly foreboding as it was entrancing. The word “heavy” is thrown around to describe any loud or remotely dark music, but Conan epitomized it. Every organ was jarred. Conan were effortlessly destructive. The self-proclaimed “caveman battle doom” exceeded every prior expectation of volume and sheer force; if your eyes were closed you might have seen Crom and Achilles leading an army of Uruk-hai through Mordor before your chest imploded.