Debut albums are an odd beast. Even when they’re good they tend to come with a lot of growing pains, and bands at this early stage in their career tend to lack the self-awareness to really exploit their own potential. Sometimes, this rough, unrefined approach is great. It can often feel honest and less contrived than more mature projects. Sometimes it isn’t, and that’s fine too. A band may just need more time to reflect and polish their sound. However, a true anomaly is the debut that can combine this raw energy with the honed self-awareness of a far more seasoned act. Conjurer’s Mire is one such exceptional record.
Although Mire is Conjurer’s first full-length album, the Coventry quartet have already made quite a name for themselves in the UK’s underground scene due to their ferocious live shows. Their 2016 EP, I, helped shape this reputation, as its four blisteringly heavy tracks were clearly crafted with maximum live impact in mind. The experience of listening to I is akin to being repeatedly pummelled in the face with a large blunt object (in a good way!), and seemed designed to whip crowds into a frenzy and get heads banging.
If there were one criticism to be levelled against I, it was that the brute force of the EP was a little too relentless. Although it translated brilliantly live, I’s lack of dynamic and compositional experimentation meant it came across as slightly one-note. Since the release of I, fans have been anxiously waiting to see what Conjurer could deliver when given the broader canvas of a full-length album to work with. Would they double down on the uncompromising heaviness of their EP or opt for a more daring and nuanced approach? Well, it turns out they did both.
Mire is every bit as heavy as I – even more so in places – yet it also works tonal and dynamic shifts into every song. These are complemented by an abundance of diverse parts that blend seamlessly to provide the album with an enthralling ebb and flow of tension. However, this exceptional level of song-crafting isn’t the only thing that makes Mire a truly remarkable debut effort. Even more impressive is the sheer variety of influences infused into Conjurer’s sound. The band pull from almost every corner of the metal world to craft a record with so many sonic twists and turns that any attempts to pin it down with simple genre tags are futile. Doom rubs shoulders with post-rock; black metal and sludge influences meld together; melodic hardcore and progressive death do battle. Yet never does it feel like these influences are forced or wrenched in as a novelty. Conjurer’s sound on Mire has been compared to acts as disparate and acclaimed as Converge, Neurosis, Gojira, Opeth and Mastodon, but these are really just rough guideposts. The truth is that Conjurer are at once reminiscent of a hundred other bands, and yet have also crafted a sound that is uniquely and undeniably their own. This is no small feat for such a young, fledgling band.
Mire also turns out to be a more than apt name for the record, as its sonic landscape is as murky and impenetrable as its title implies. Thick, muddy, down-tuned guitars are merged with eerie, fog-shrouded atmospherics, and blast beats and rasped vocals wash over the listener like a bitter gale. Inhabiting this dismal fen are hulking riffs that lumber sluggishly about, as if bogged down in the deep, brackish waters. The album is easy to get lost in, and every track contains hidden details that bubble up out of the primordial swamp like preserved remains. Mire’s eclectic sonic palette not only invites, but demands repeat listens, and every spin of this record reveals new depths.
The album also becomes more captivating the further in you’re drawn. The final tracks are two of the longest and most intense. “Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash” is possibly the best example of the effortless skill with which Conjurer weave together their myriad ideas and influences. The track swells as mellow, unsettling, and at times Eastern-tinged atmospherics give way to crushing riffs that repeatedly bludgeon the listener with no concern for technicality. “Hadal” might be the most memorable track if only because of the absolutely disgusting riff that kicks it off. Its filthy, fuzzed-out, Sleep-inspired guitars ooze forward at a nauseatingly slow pace, and as the drums enter one can’t help but imagine an unwieldy beast dragging itself up out of the mud. The pace soon picks up but the track’s monstrous energy never subsides. It is undoubtedly the most punishing, bleak and unforgiving material that Conjurer have produced, and that’s quite a statement for a band of this calibre.
Some reviewers have gone so far as to laud Conjurer as “2018’s Code Orange” or “the new Deafheaven”, but these are dubious predictions. Conjurer’s disorienting amalgamation of sounds and their uncompromising heaviness are not going to be to everyone’s taste, and the band seem unconcerned with crafting a sound for the spotlight. However, for those of us they do appeal to, this is a record to get lost in, and one which will reward faithful listeners time and time again. Although it’s still early in the year, Mire has the potential to be one of the most promising releases of 2018, and with any luck will signal the start of an exciting career for one of the most refreshing bands to emerge from the UK scene in recent years.
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Mire will be released on March 9th through Holy Roar Records, and is available for pre-order in digital and physical formats through the band’s Bandcamp page.