Bassist Joe Preston has been in his fair share of bands over the course of the 90's and 00's (Melvins, Earth, Sunn O))), and High on Fire, to name the more prominent ones), but through it all he has maintained his solo music career, in which he is known by the stage name Thrones. Listening to the music he's had a part in creating over the years, you might think you're starting to get a sense of what Thrones' mission statement might be. And you'd be mostly right, but the actual music will probably surprise you nonetheless.
Thrones is weird. The one-man music machine of Joe Preston consists of three basic parts: electric bass, tuned lower than Hell and distorted until every note has a wet squelch to it; a drum machine that sounds like it was programmed in equal proportions by an adept musician and an aluminum baseball bat; and Preston's voice, a fearsome bellow often contorted in cruel, unusual ways by a vocoder. This is the basis of Sperm Whale, Thrones' second EP, which I consider to be the perfect distillation of Preston's music.
Sperm Whale, despite being four tracks long, gives a good demonstration of the extent of Thrones' vision. "Oso Malo" starts out with thunderous smacks of the bass and a couple funky synth beats which preface a tirade of alternately creaking, croaking, bubbling, and scraping vocals. It's as if Preston took the technology of the vocoder into consideration and tried to devise the best way to cause evil with it. "Nuts and Berries" is a bit more of the same, but slightly restrained. "Ephraim" seems to be holy or ancient, or both. It builds heavenwards slowly and quietly, with a massive thrumming like sliding tectonic plates accelerated to move like ocean waves. It's perhaps meant to be calming, but you only end up humbled, silenced, and powerless. "The Anguish of Bears" takes advantage of that, crashing into existence and stirring up whirlwinds of angst and terror. It's everything "Ephraim" was without the calm, and is arguably the best song of the four.
1. Oso Malo (4:28)
2. Nuts and Berries (3:08)
3. Ephraim (4:16)
4. The Anguish of Bears (4:11)
So, what can we make of Thrones' mission statement now? The music is certainly heavy. Joe Preston's aim is apparently to write music that is able to crush your bones so forcefully that your spinal fluid erupts from the top of your head like mercury out of a cartoon thermometer. And yet the ridiculous digitally-altered voices almost counteract that. You find it comical, and that makes you uncomfortable because you're not sure whether that was the intent. It's somewhat like cracking jokes at the funeral of a buddy who would have laughed at the sight of you mourning in that suit you've worn only twice before. I've seen Joe Preston play. He had a short beard, Willie Nelson-style braids, a rainbow guitar strap, and an obvious sense of humour. He's covered The Residents. You can laugh, it's okay.
Sperm Whale was released on the indie label Kill Rock Stars. At the same time a full-length album was also released, called Sperm Whale + White Rabbit. This compilation album contains all tracks from Sperm Whale as well as those from the 1999 EP White Rabbit.
Sperm Whale - Thrones - 2000 - Kill Rock Stars