The writing is on the wall, the bleeding in the blur; metal is enjoying one of its most exciting periods of the modern era. And all it took was the creative death of a few dozen scenes along the way. The past decade has seen bands completely reinvent whole genres (Deafheaven, Zeal and Ardor, Chelsea Wolfe) or do away with genre boundaries entirely to create spectacular releases which are so diverse even the mainstream has had to take notice (Gojira, Code Orange, Employed To Serve). Yet, as creatively inspiring as the scene is now, there is a palpable sense that this revival was underpinned by a period of apathy and frustration – a sensation all too familiar to Conjurer, whose debut Mire looks set to secure the band’s place in the pantheon of artists changing the face of metal.
“When we started, there was nothing to follow,” admits Dan Nightingale, one half of Conjurer’s guitar/vocal assault. “It was a barren wasteland. But not in a bad way – we could do what we want.”
Formed in 2014, Conjurer arrived onto the UK metal scene just as deathcore was taking its last breaths of relevance. But to Dan, this scene-death was just another aspect of musical sparsity with which he had contended his whole life, his own local scene having long gone belly up in the face of indifference, and the closure of The Vault – Rugby’s prominent (and only) major venue.
“When you’re a kid, you think it’s a big wide world and there’s going to be loads of bands. But Rugby is dead musically. The only places you could play were pubs if you were in a cover band, or the odd venue, which would always close down.”
Trashing your hometown is a cliche as old as rock n roll itself, but Dan is quick to assure that he doesn’t feel resentment, nor any yearning need to escape. Speaking from his childhood home, it is apparent that he has a lot of fondness for his upbringing and the unique perspective it has given him. As with many 90s kids, Dan’s first exposure to music came via music videos on TV (“Don’t ask me which channels – I can’t remember!” he exclaims). Far from the thunderous smorgasbord that would later influence him, his instruction began with whatever was available. First, there was ‘Learn To Fly’ by the Foo Fighters: “It was like four in the morning and we were packing to go on holiday. I saw that and had to be dragged out the house because I was desperately trying to find out who they were”. Then, ‘Epic’ by Faith No More: “I was well into it; my dad said we’ve got that upstairs somewhere. I ran upstairs and found The Real Thing. It’s still one of my favourites”.
Raised on a musically omnivorous diet – during the course of our chat he namedrops no less than 63 different bands and artists – Dan’s parents were a huge influence on his ability to learn and create music over the years; this early instruction helping to foster an interest that soon blossomed into a full-blown passion. “My dad opened the doors for me for that kind of stuff,” Dan says. “When I asked for more he started taping shows like MTV Rocks and I’d just sit and watch that. My mum was always massive on glam bands like Bon Jovi – it was actually Richie Sambora that made me want to play guitar. I was always looking for more and eventually wanted to play an instrument.”
Dan would get his opportunity one day while watching his dad practice ACDC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ on a Gibson SG (“I’m looking at it now, it’s beat up to shit,” he laughs). Offered an invitation to play, Dan was met by the same dismay which likely strikes all passionate music fans the first time they try to play an instrument. “I bawled my eyes out – why wasn’t I like Angus Young?!” he laughs. This passion would stick with him, eventually evolving into an interest in performance. Learning enough guitar to play a school talent show, Dan made his debut at ten years old. “The year before I did a comedy show – it was dreadful, even if I was just nine years old,” Dan says. Keen not to repeat the experience, Dan entered again – but utilising his burgeoning talent for guitar.
This renown had its benefits – not least finally finding a partner in crime. “I was sat in an English class with a kid I went to school for my whole life and he was suddenly like ‘I saw you at the talent show and now I’ve got a guitar because of you’. That was wicked.” Together, the pair would form Dan’s first bands, bonding over the metalcore explosion of the mid-00s. “I owe a lot to bands like Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and Killswitch Engage,” Dan admits. “We were writing like that; it didn’t sound particularly good, but we enjoyed the hell out of it”. This partnership would last until 2013, followed by a short stint in a covers band. “As much as it was fun, I felt awkward getting paid for those gigs because they weren’t our songs,” Dan says. “I missed the feeling of playing my own tunes, whatever things I like. I was just paving the way for what I wanted to do with my band; nobody has the finished product on the first try.”
Conjurer was born when Dan connected with fellow guitar/vocalist Brady Deeprose, the pair having run into each other many times playing the Midlands pub circuit. Together, they envisioned the foundation of Conjurer – right down to the band’s musical eclecticism. “I got a text to be in a band in the vein of Gojira or Black Dahlia Murder,” Dan says. “But at the time I was into Down, Armed For Apocalypse and Yob – much fuzzier stuff. We couldn’t really decide.”
This indecision would prove key, the band deciding early on to adopt tags like sludge and doom to describe their sound, whilst not particularly fitting in with those genres. To further confuse matters, the band didn’t have a local scene or venue to call home, meaning they were likely to turn up everywhere from Birmingham to Northampton, Coventry to Wolverhampton right from the off. And thus, like many a gun – or in this case guitar – slinger before them, the band were forced to move from town to town, scene to scene, without ever truly finding a home.
Debuting in February 2015, the band suddenly found themselves playing The Rainbow (home to many a disenfranchised underground UK act), opening a bill which featured a host of prominent UK underground talent. “Brady started a promotions company, basically just so we could do our first gig and play with great bands like October File and Alunah,” Dan says. “We were amazed that people wanted to play with us and just stuck ourselves on the opening spot. A lot more people came to see us than I expected, so it wasn’t even like we picked up from where we both left off – it was like we’d skipped something”.
Conjurer would quickly establish themselves by playing alongside a veritable who’s who of underground talent. Starting out in the Birmingham doom scene, the band expanded quickly and people soon realised that they were much more than just a doom band. Popping up on everything from hardcore bills to deathcore shows and even noise rock gigs, each show helped shape the band’s sound, without ever directly appropriating any one style.
“When people ask us about influences, it’s hard because we all have eclectic taste,” Dan admits. “It’s not like there’s one thing where we go ‘that’s what we’re going to do’. Playing gigs is our biggest influence – playing with a band and thinking man, I really love what they did there. We pick lots of stuff up from bands we play with, so when we list a band as influences it’s not their entire discography or even one album, it could just be a single show that really called out to us.”
This approach has allowed Conjurer to amass a sound which is entirely their own, hinting towards sounds far beyond their doomy origin whilst still maintaining auteurship over the final product. In many ways, they were destined to lead the next generation of innovation within metal, having grown up at a time where many of the genre’s biggest historic faux pas weren’t just accepted, but embraced as the new norm. “Just look at Metallica putting acoustic guitars on Ride The Lightning,” Dan offers.
“We’ve been brought up at a time where you can do anything,” Dan adds. “If you want to combine emo and black metal, do it! It’ll sound great” (it probably wouldn’t, but we’ll take your word for it). “We have free reign right now – a band like Pijn are playing Godspeed-influenced Post Metal, Employed To Serve are doing groovy hardcore, a band like We Never Learned To Live are like post-rock screamo and that’s more of a benefit to us than any one album that we all like. It’s seeing everyone do what they want to do and because they’re all so strong at the minute, the scene right now is strong and getting better.”
Clearly enthused talking about his Holy Roar labelmates, Dan goes on to talk about about how the robustness of the metal scene has not just helped Conjurer make something truly exciting with The Mire, but also influences them going forward. Already, the band have begun writing for their follow-up release (their debut having actually been completed in early 2017). “There’s no fear anymore, there’s no ‘we can’t do this’,” Dan says. “Back in the day, if you went to see a thrash band, you could bet that every single support would be a thrash band. That’s not it now – just look at Trivium going out with Venom Prison, Power Trip and Code Orange. I might not be a massive fan of all of those bands, but that is a fantastic bill.”
Maintaining a critical eye is something which Dan clearly feels strongly about, not just calling out bands he doesn’t agree with, but encouraging people to be honest about Conjurer too. “If everyone is being positive – me being the cynic I am – it’s like ‘some of you are definitely lying’,” Dan says. “We played Fixxion in Wolverhampton and I’d got a bad stomach after the set, so I legged it to the toilet. These two guys came in at the urinal, one said ‘That Conjurer band were alright’ and his mate went ‘I thought they were FUCKING SHIT’. I was holding my laughter in so much – that’s all I wanted!”
As much as Dan invites criticism, there’s not a great deal to be found right now. Between fan anticipation and an excitable press buzz, there’s plenty of hype to go around that might just see the band pull their own coup on the metal and mainstream world. But, given how important home and family are to Dan, would he really want to suddenly spend 10 months of the year out on tour? “That’s the million dollar question,” he admits. Citing his own passion for helping family (outside of the band Dan works in his dad’s motorcycle shop), an interest in kayaking and the rest of the band’s familial commitments, Dan finally offers a simple answer.
“I can’t say where we’ll go, but I can say that we’re dead chuffed with where we are right now.”
One of the hottest and most eagerly anticipated metal bands in the UK? There’s definitely worse positions to be in.
Mire is out February 23rd via Holy Roar Records.