Review by Nathan on April 11, 2021.
Usually, when I gloss over the promotional descriptions that accompany links to the new music I check out, I expect things to be a little bit overblown and treat everything I read with a slight grain of salt going in, since the person who wrote it will likely benefit from the album making money. Never do I expect a promo blurb to undersell something, but shit, here we are.
The title of the email that was sent to me read "for fans of: Ulcerate, Krallice, Alice in Chains, Kvelertak, and Paradise Lost" which immediately just kinda made me think...what? Talk about a bunch of artists I never would have put in the same category. The text mentioned boundless expression of emotion, escaping the limits of their previous progressive black metal project to transcend and defy genre, mixing rock with dissonant death metal. It was a valiant and worthy effort to try and encapsulate whatever Conquistador is, but all that poetic waxing still didn't properly articulate how it is like absolutely nothing I have ever heard before.
It's not even like it's just the occasional moment that makes you go "huh, that was kinda different" - every single acoustic build, every climax, every single twist and turn is dotted with idiosyncratic Stone Healer-isms that perhaps have traces of the bands mentioned above as influences, but they're integrated together in ways I didn't think any musician could even fathom, much less make sound remotely appealing. I don't usually delve into a track-by-track, as it's generally a crutch relied upon by novice reviewers, but I'll give a rundown of a few tracks just so you can properly take in the sheer uniqueness of the twists and turns this takes.
'One Whisper': a delicate acoustic melody with a flicker of dissonance in it gives way to a cascade of cowbell-driven rock with whimsical, almost cocky guitar leads that happily power along, until the song suddenly erupts into a storm of furious, Ulcerate-esque atonal death metal with a slight underlying melody...but the clean singing doesn't stop, even over the incredibly dissonant guitarwork. The song eventually twists into a moment of somber reflection before exploding into a final burst of energy, combining the dissonance with the driving rock energy, with a strained, melodious yell punctuating the climax.
'Until My Will Is Gone': At first, it feels like it's going to be the somber, delicate ballad that you're craving at that point, and it satiates that urge just long enough until eventually it bubbles over into a flowing yet jarringly dissonant Krallice-esque moment, building in energy until eventually the song eases back and shifts into a proggy chorus that gives feeling of later Enslaved with its subtly anthemic chorus and riffs that emphasize the off-beat a lot. It feels like the natural conclusion is to relax even more, but Stone Healer keep the momentum going for even longer by throwing in some of their most complicated and powerful riffing yet, backed by a gritty low end to supplement the high-end dissonant overload. You’re expecting a ballad, but you end up getting the riffiest song on the album.
It concludes with the break you've been waiting for in the form of a layered, folky passage with perhaps a tad of Agalloch influence, before breaking into a final surge that is akin to a more melodious version of the new Suffering Hour album. I know it probably feels like I'm name dropping random bands Ad Nauseam (I hear a bit of them in here too!) but it's all in there, I swear, and it's just a testament to how seamlessly the Kaminsky brothers are able to blend a myriad of influences.
'Into The Spoke Of Night': Overall, this leans a bit more to the extreme side with its dextrous guitarwork and more consistent use of harsh vocals, but it's also the most steady and integrated. There's still valleys and dips with occasional times where it leans more on the side of consonance, but overall this just keeps coming at you from different angles for several minutes before settling into a mid paced alt-rock type section. Then, that turns into blast beats and tremolo, all underlined and driven by the drum performance of Matt Kaminsky. It's easy to give most of the credit to Dave considering he plays more instruments, but Conquistador wouldn't be what it is without Matt's subtle intricacy and flowing, breathing performance that always elevates the riffs. On this song in particular, they turn the winding stream of guitars into a powerful barrage. It's hard to describe what makes his performance so spectacular in words, so thankfully the band uploaded a YouTube video of a rough playthrough of this song that captures his talents better than my words ever could, so just watch that. Fuck, I would pay an uncomfortable amount of money to sit in a room with these guys and watch them jam for an hour.
I didn't even get to the weird, emotional catchiness of 'Surrender' or the bassy groove mixed with obtuse, jagged guitarwork in 'Torrent Of Flame'. I am not kidding when I say every single track on this is going to blow your mind in one way or another. If you can name a subgenre of rock or metal, chances are there's something sprinkled in Conquistador that will remind you of it. Unlike most albums in this genre-blending style, though, it retains enough structure and hookiness in its songwriting to give you something to draw you back in repeatedly and doesn't ever use complexity at the expense of memorability - it feels like Dave Kaminsky lets his fingers go wherever his heart guides them and maps out the direction by repeating and returning to motifs. Combined with the drumming that follows the riffs like they came out of the same brain, it's an album that I promise will defy your expectations even after all the hype I've given to it so far. Conquistador is simply spectacular and one of the best pieces of music you'll hear all year.
Rating: 9.1 out of 10385