Review: CONJURING FATE – “Valley of Shadows”… Posted: 28/04/2019 by Philip Morrissey
The dreaded word hiatus. It is the relationship equivalent of being ‘On a Break’. It is, of course, used as a replacement for a split. Band members can use it as a handy excuse when, or if, they come back together. For many fans, it means the ultimate demise of their favourite bands however. And with that any opportunity get new material. It is the hope that kills you. Year upon year, rumours occur of said outfit coming back out of hibernation and getting back into the studio. It never seems to happen and another year is marked off the calendar. There are many reasons for it happening. Falling out with one another, an impasse reached on a particular project, spells to overcome certain personal issues, seeking to concentrate on work or family….the list is endless. But occasionally a band reconvenes whom no-one ever imagined would. Time together often means time apart. And this often proves true. A greater maturity, and comfort within ones own skin, smooths over the younger frustration and anger. Money does help too.
Some never get back together. Thy Sinister Bloom, Scald, Mass Extinction, Carnun Rising, Brains, Flatline, Terriers, I’ll Eat Your Face… have all shuffled off this mortal coil. All of whom seemed to have promised “something coming soon”. Plenty more bands out there who are still a going concern but have been quiet for some time now. One band that many expected not to hear from again are Conjuring Fate. Tommy Daly and Phil Horner set up the band in their native Belfast in 2005. Despite praise from many for their solid live work, it seemed we were never going to see that elusive debut album. A number of line-up changes occurred with bassists and drummers, before all went quiet. That, we assumed, was that. Another promising Irish band unable to get it together. This was until they came back in 2014, complete with a new line-up and the release of “House on the Haunted Hill” EP. Work began in earnest to advertise their new status, to promote themselves and get back out playing. A video was released for ‘Mirror Mirror’ from said EP. Live duties saw them sharing the stage with the likes of Blaze Bayley, Diamond Head, Rage of Angels, Graham Bonnet, Dragonforce and Operation Mindcrime.
Has the album been worth the wait however? ‘Our Darkest Days’ heralds the ominous sounds of a wailing siren and gunfire. A broadcast warning affected civilians to take guard occurs just as the sound of a dropping bomb takes place. The wails preempt the introduction of the playing with catchy riffs, steady drum beats and insistent bass-lines. It breaks into a section led by the guitars and drums. Tommy Daly’s vocals eventually show up and they are predominately on the mid-level range. A bit more power is shown as it leads into another instrumental interlude. The playing kicks into a great solo from Phil Horner and Karl Gibson. As the vocals re-assume, they reveal the dark and foreboding lyrics. I would like to hear a bit more bite and aggression though. Bass, drums and guitars lock together in a great instrumental piece. The pace slows down to allow the rhythm section to shine through before kicking up again. Great playing from all concerned. ‘Marching Dead’ is led by a wonderfully fluid and melodic guitar line backed up with dependable snare work. Has that eighties ballad-like feel. Would fit alongside European festivals just fine with the likes of Elixir and Cloven Hoof. Some weight grows into it before Daly’s vocals arrive. It is decent but could do with a bit of umph to it. The guitar feel crops up a few occasions, breaking into a solo at one point. It is backed up well by the drums and bass from Steve Ledgar. The chorus is repeated towards the end as drums and guitar sees it out. ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ has a frenetic, almost thrash like feel to it. It is driven by lightning sharp riffs and powerful drumming. It evolves into a histrionic guitar solo with dive bombs and sweeps aplenty. Vocals show up and generally match the tougher feel better. A cracking drum led interlude from Bogdan Walczak takes place in between. The tone switches upon another full-blown solo from Horner and Gibson. It is varied, melodious and well layered. Drums and guitars see it out to a close. Picked as the first single from the album, it certainly packs a punch. It also saw a video made by award winning director George Clarke.
‘Land of the Damned’ contains another high tempo opening but more on the melodious side of affairs. Catchy riffs are set against sturdy drumming. The grittiness, at times, suits Daly’s vocal style wonderfully. Backing vocals seem to crop up periodically. The playing continues of its smooth trajectory before another solo takes place with plenty of variation on display. At times, it contains a dirtier tone, and more melody elsewhere. It is aided yet again by steady drumming and bass which help harden it up. It does meander a bit at times though. ‘Chasing Shadows’ begins with carefully plucked acoustic guitar. This is set against the other, producing a low and deliberate solo. It soars and reaches wonderful heights. Delicate tapping takes place on the drums from Waczak. Tone wise, it sees a switch, becoming tougher in sound and approach. A few effects applied back this up. It has that real galloping iron Maiden N.W.O.B.H.M vibe to it. Horner and Gibson mix with each other well. It contains much of the spirit and character one would expect from a band like UFO. A sweep sees the intro of the vocals, which come across well on the most part. A slow and purposeful piece develops involving all before a forceful solo takes place. Plenty is thrown into it. The vocals return on cue to another sweep and the chorus is repeated to the end. Supposedly it was written for a friend battling cancer at the time. ‘A Primal Desire’ has a real eighties character. It is built upon one of those timeless sounding riffs and busy drumming. It steadily grows in weight and speed as it develops. Daly’s vocals suit the gritty atmosphere created. There is enough power and emotion present for them to work. As it develops along into the chorus, the vocals give way to a high intensity guitars and drums led piece. A blistering guitar solo is the end result. The chorus piece is repeated again with strong vocals. It comes across as a bit of a fist pumping number live and some heights are really hit with it. The playing remains solid throughout.
‘Trust No-One’ has a moody, almost keyboard sounding, beginning. The guitars also have an oddly medieval feel to them. It quickly builds into more of a familiar feel with some powerful driving guitars and drums. The fluid playing slightly gives way to to strong bass-lines and drums. The vocals are still in that mid-range but possess a decent air of danger to them. It is backed by some kicking riffs. Backing vocals may be employed over the chorus with helicopter noises over the top of it. There is a proper sense of arrogance with the vocal delivery. The fear and paranoia encountered in ‘The Thing’ perhaps. A spoken word audio piece by Scott Holderby of Mordred takes place, backed up with great snare work by Walczak and dynamite riffs. It has that ‘One’ sense to it. A solo breaks free, followed closely by drumming. The latter contains nice little fills here and there. Both players wail audaciously regarding the former. The choral section is revisited, before a scream leads into a full paced section at the end. ‘Apocalypse’ does what it says with a thunderous rampage at the start. Intense, pacy riffing is backed by rock solid drumming. A proper eighties thrash feel to it. Ledgar’s bass kicks in to add to the weight. A solo is lifted above all this. It is perhaps more melodic, but no less heavy. The vocals have a real air of spite to them with possible backing used. Great drumming drives the number forward throughout. More double kicks present. Another solo occurs before an elongated scream is backed with guitar lines to the end.
The final three tracks are bonus numbers which were seen on ‘House of the Haunted Hill’ E.P. Its title sees a thundershot series of beats against sharp and catchy riffs with the bass just bubbling underneath. A proper old-school feel to it. Daly’s vocals are bang on the mark here. A few heavier tinges occur, here and there, aided by the bass and drums. A few sharp riffs like before prior to a riff and percussion back and forth. A dazzling guitar solo emerges which is a credit to both players. The chorus is repeated to the end as a guitar wails away in the background. Steady playing sees it out. ‘Mirror Mirror’ has a distinct air of menace and power to the opening. It has somewhat of a punk influence to it actually. This leads into a thrash piece displaying their musical chops. A few steady beats, alongside slow and understated riffs, evolves into a cracking solo involving Gibson and Horner in turn. This continues on through a couple of notes to the background. It is capably assisted by solid drumming and bass-lines. The choral vocal sections are repeated to the end. ‘Backwoods Witch’ closes things out. It has yet another opening on the heavier side with a few double bass kicks and good snare action from Walczak to match with taught riffs. The vocals appear and match in well with the general air of darkness thematically wise. Seems to be more than one vocalist and possible effects applied at one point. Another instrumental segment grows into a wildly over-the-top solo. In a good sense of course. It features great playing against one another. This is courtesy of Steve Moore of Stormzone/Fireland and Neil Frazer of Rage of Angels/Stagma. The drums keep pace throughout. The vocals dip in and out of the playing as the the conclusion is reached.
It is, overall, a highly enjoyable album. There is definitely enough going on to attract fans to them. Particular those who grew up listening to the likes of Saxon, Accept, Helloween and Maiden. Not that they are just a revival act however. The musicians show plenty of craft and technical abilities to incorporate different shades and textures. Not merely an early eighties copy cat. Thrash, Power Metal and more are thrown into the mix. Claims that it contains no memorable songs are off the mark. It is quite easy to walk away from the album still humming the songs in your head for a few days after. The guest spots work well and add a change of sound to the particular songs. All were arranged through working, or touring with said bands also. It would be a lie to state it is perfect however. The unavoidable issue of the vocals loom large at times. They lack the necessary power to pull off certain moments at times and could oblige a stronger vocal or backing to make it work. I’m not going to rag on him too much as certain tones and songs suit his style more. Better sound would definitely suit certain tracks as well. Self produced by Phil in his home studio, it does well in the most part, but many songs such as ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ needs a stronger production. Signing with Pure Steel Records for this worldwide release may see releases in the future getting a more representative production of their quality.
In the meantime, the strength of this album shone through in their high placings in 2017’s Metal Ireland Radio poll for best artwork (1st), best single (5th) and best band (6th).
A busy end of the year, started much the same. It did, however, see the departure of Bogdan Walzak. His place has been filled by Niall Mgrotti from Bakken for live duties. Whether he stays where he, or if a full-time replacement comes in, remains to be seen. The rest of the year was equally busy. They played a cracking set at Urban Assault festival in Cork, performed at the Distortion Project birthday bash and The Siege of Limerick, supported Geoff Tate, Warrior Soul, Rabid Bitch of the North, Graham Bonnet, Blaze Bayley, and The Crawling and headlining Black Christmas. This year so far has seen them travel over to the UK to play at Grimm Up North Fest, plus a headline date in Carlisle two days before. A couple of new tracks have been teased at recent gigs. This is in preparation for a release scheduled this year. I am extremely interested to hear what develops out of this. Hopefully the wait won’t be as long until the next one though!
Reviewed by Philip Morrissey.