Formed in 2008, the trio consisting of three members going by the names of Set, Leviathan and Troll, Los Angeles based Conjuror released a series of splits and demos that ultimately culminate in their first full length album Fight or Yield.
Conjuror brings forth a very diverse set of nine "crushing hymns for battle and ritual" as they call them. Forged with a core of black metal the band surrounds it with influences from heavy metal, punk and folk music to deliver the very imaginative and grand lyrics telling of werewolves, vampires, dungeons and black magic.
The vast majority of tracks on this album are refreshingly short and the band sticks to very simple yet incredibly effective songstructures. The aforementioned punk influences are predominantly found in the drumming whereas a lot of the catchy guitar riffs boast the flavor and memorability of heavy metal paired with gripping melodies in the black metal sections.
The band does however show that they're capable of writing tracks of extended length without pushing too far or meandering around with tracks like Discerning the Transmundane, To Become a Werewolf, Will to Power and Swallowed by Darkness, the latter of which is the longest song on the album, clocking in at just over six minutes.
Swallowed by Darkness in particular makes a great shift around the halfway point. Starting off as a dark and tragic lamentation of being a vampire, delivered by blastbeats and tremolo-picked guitars against the back of passionate screams, the music shifts to accompany the change in tone of the lyrics. Tragic in sound nonetheless the instruments slow down to a mid-tempo as the screams make way for a short clean vocal section before the song comes to a close.
As the title indicates To Become a Werewolf is a song about turning into a nocturnal beast. Mostly on the faster side, this track features some subtle keyboards that do a good job at establishing the mystical atmosphere the lyrics aim to create with vivid descriptions and a memorable chorus to glorify lycanthropy.
Discerning the Transmundane draws the listener in with a catchy start. Punk influenced drums accompany the tremolo melodies as vocalist Troll sings of descending into a glacial ruin leading to a place "so dark you need not eyes to see", once again showcasing outstandingly vivid lyricism before the song comes to a close with an interplay of folky layers of clean vocals and screams.
The vocals are definitely one of the most impactful and outstading feature of Fight or Yield for me. Ranging from banshee like shrieks over powerful screams to primal growls and folky clean vocals, the band delivers an impressive amount of vocal variety, each with its own unique sound. The ear-piercingly high screams in particular are bone-chilling and wonderfully impactful. At times the vocal delivery even gets quite technical as torrents of words are quickly discharged on songs like Fortnight and Discerning the Transmundane.
As for the overall sound of the band, the mix is actually quite spacious. Reverbed and at times distant vocals ring out from behind slightly distorted guitars, backed by a soft bass to support them effectively, accompanied by punchy drums. The production is far from lo-fi but rather perfectly fitting in terms of how rough and gritty it is.
While one might assert that the tracks on this album are not ambitious enough in terms of songwriting, seeing as most of them are rather simplistic, the band actually made the right call in my eyes. Whereas a lot of releases tend to overextend and overcomplicate, the compositions on Fight or Yield are mostly refreshingly short and simple with the full album ending up close to the 34 minute mark.
In the end, Fight or Yield is a very diverse bundle of songs, each with its own identity yet very cohesive overall. The creative and impactful vocal delivery paired with the effectively simplistic songwriting make this an inredibly strong and memorable debut that manages to claim my album of the year spot for now.
I will definitely keep a close eye on this band and I'm excited to find out how this album will hold up against some of the very strong upcoming releases by other bands in the coming months.