Conquerors – Stormbringer Review

Nothing can make writing album reviews more complicated than expectations. Promo material, previous releases and prior experience with a band’s sound, history and members can lead to any number of assumptions prior to taking a new release for a spin. Even if you’re one of those brave souls who swears by perusing the bare minimum before diving in, even a genre tag or an album cover can (and will) inform the listening process and lead to certain expectations. While I can’t say if that is a universally good or bad thing, I can certainly attest that it happened to me. During my latest sojourn through the tepid waters we writers wade through to scoop up our latest promo, I encountered Stormbringer, the latest from French black metal outfit Conquerors. Confronted with Witch King-esque cover art, a Slayer-inspired logo and the knowledge that this was the band’s third full-length album, I was more than willing to give these Fenriz lookalikes a chance. Curse you, expectations.

Stormbringer doesn’t bring anything to the table that you haven’t heard before, shrieked from the scarred lungs of a thousand trve cvlt aspirants. In many of the reviews you read here on AMG, such a statement is often followed up with the caveat that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; that whatever the band lacks in originality, they make up for in proficiency and reliability. Unfortunately, Stormbringer makes it hard to include that assuaging sentiment. Because while you certainly have heard this many, many times before, it’s difficult to say that the experience is an enjoyable one. Reliably old school can be endearing; reliably repetitive can be infuriating. Unfortunately, you get much more of the latter than the former on Stormbringer. Which is a downright shame considering there are plenty of bands taking black metal in new directions while still paying homage to the second wave titans who came before them. Groups like Wayfarer, Kvaen, Mizmor and countless others prove it’s possible to maintain your trve blue cred without sacrificing innovation or creativity. It seems Conquerors missed the memo.

At this point, it would seem worthwhile to delve into a few of the standout tracks; perhaps explore the above criticisms by breaking down different songs, pointing out the areas of concern and highlighting sections that stand out; but that just isn’t possible with Stormbringer. First song “Stormbringer” certainly begins with some interesting riffs, and second-half track “Crushing the Faith” kicks off with an interesting opener, until you realize Conquerors reuse almost the exact same opener on two successive tracks. Beyond that, it’s one long slog through tiresome tremolos, monotonous BM shrieks and lo-fi production. Perhaps most damning, however, are the cringe-inducing moments (and there are several) where the guitar and drums don’t seem to be playing the same song. Was this simply a stylistic choice, meant to disorient the listener? Or is this indicative of a much larger, fundamental issue? I wish I was confident enough to assume the best, but I fear the worst.

The positives on display here are few and far between. Credit where credit is due: if Conquerors set out to write and record an album that sounds like it was released in 1990, they’ve succeeded wholeheartedly. However, it doesn’t feel like one of the now-iconic early works of the giants of the genre we’ve come to know. Instead, spinning Stormbringer reminds you that for every triumph, there’s tragedy. Imagine finding yourself in Oslo in ’91. You’re pouring over records and squinting in the dimly-lit halls of the Helvete record store. If you’d found this album, hoping you’d happened upon the next morbid masterpiece, one spin back at your parents’ house would be enough to convince you that all the creativity went into the cover art.

Expectations are a funny thing. On one hand, a single, intuitive assumption can lead you to discover the metal masterpiece you didn’t know you needed. On the other, expecting greatness based on only one or two attributes can result in a few tears and and even a few more swears. I don’t feel proud doling out a 1.0. In fact, with Conquerors now seven years into their career, I honestly hope these beleathered Frenchmen are willing to learn from their mistakes, grow as artists and on their next release, opt for improvement over stagnation. And yet I’m sworn to review Stormbringer, not their as-yet-unnamed fourth album that I’m totally expecting to love.

Rating: 1.0/5.0
DR: | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Music-Records
Releases Worldwide: May 21st, 2021

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