In a relatively short period of time, Black Bow Records has established itself as the go-to label for doom metal of the thickly toned, impossibly heavy variety. Fronted by Conan’s own Jon Paul Davis (which should give you a pretty accurate impression of the label’s overall feel), Black Bow has consistently focused curating top-shelf doom releases that put a premium on leisurely paced, ever-crushing riff worship from the likes of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Hawkmoth, Slomatics, and, of course, the hail-worthy Conan. Some labels act as a sampler of sorts for varies subgenres of metal, offering a little bit of everything and, more often than not, specializing in nothing. Not Black Bow. As should be clear even from the very incomplete list above, Black Bow gives Jon the opportunity to highlight what he loves: dense, slow, overwhelming doom. Add into that menacing fold Throneless, a Swedish three-piece whose thunderous sound makes for a perfect fit in Black Bow’s elite roster.
The ingredients of Throneless’s brand of doom is familiar but nonetheless still impactful:
– one part cavernous, hulking rhythm section
– two parts crunchy, inhumanly distorted riffs
– a light sprinkling of distantly mixed vocals
– dash of psychedelia to taste
Turn amps to 11, mix everything together and pound until dizzy.
Cycles is the second full length by Throneless and, while the new record doesn’t offer anything in the way of a drastic sonic overhaul, it does represent a step-up in the band’s confidence, songwriting, and overall commitment their grimy, bottom-heavy sound. The four tracks are somewhat variations on the same theme: lumbering riffs, hypnotic repetition, and the favored “shouted-from-the-other-room” vocal delivery as mastered by Conan themselves. It all adds up to a perfectly competent and enjoyable modern doom record, even as the songs occasionally feel safe and the band prefers to tread in their comfort zone rather than stretch the boundaries of their sound. Then again, with a sound this punishing, who needs to mix it up?
The watery bass line that begins Cycles belies the brute force on display for the majority of the record’s 40 minutes. “Born in Vain,” the opener, is a devastating, unhurried banger that lets the band flex all its musical muscles. No ambient intro here: from the opening seconds, Cycles is a record of noise and power, all distortion, crashing cymbals, and throaty vocals. A comfortable, head-nodding trance is established until around the 7-minute mark when the track’s menace bubbles over into a cascading, (relatively) up-tempo groove that refuses to cool down until the track’s conclusion.
The traces of psychedelia that exist on Cycles push their way through on the title track, as an airy and stargazing clean guitar intro creates a loose, flowing sensation that the remainder of the track builds upon. Piece by piece, instruments are added, distortion pedals are stomped, and the track evolves from a delicate, tuneful jaunt into a formidable, cascading rager. The transformation feels incredibly natural, though, and it’s impressive to hear the band build an organic and naturally evolving soundscape from such sparse beginnings. “Senseless” quickly dispenses with intricate suite writing, however, and returns to the no-frills, all riffs “fuzz-as-sledgehammer” intensity that is Throneless’s comfort zone. Album closer “Oracle” is the most atmospheric, deliberately wide-reaching song on Cycles, a 14+ minute slab of pure tone-reverent, eardrum-crushing hypnotic doom. Sonic comparisons to Conan are perhaps unavoidable, but when you revel in the kind of monstrous, hammering, and repetitive amp worship that Throneless do, you can do much worse than being compared to the very masters of caveman battle doom.
If you’re into pulverizing, down ‘n dirty doom, Cycles will likely be right up your alley. The songs are trance-inducing but never boring, measured but always engaging. And the album’s production serves the band’s muscular delivery as well: all the instruments are pushed to the forefront for a crisp and loud listening experience. I wasn’t previously familiar with Throneless, but they’re a happy discovery and fit snugly into all the murky goodness Black Bow has to offer. Hopefully, they’ll have the opportunity to tour the record with some of their label mates and bring their crashing riff reverence to a live setting for maximum impact.
Cycles is out March 23 via Black Bow Records and can be pre-ordered here.