Conan‘s new album Existential Void Guardian is the equivalent to getting a heavy wooden club upside the head. There’s no real method or extravagant thought process to utilizing the club or even wielding it in any capacity. Someone strong enough picked up the club, swung it, and connected with the side of your once-intact skull. Except the club is swung slowly, the beating never stops, and someone is yelling the whole time.
Existential Void Guardian is the aural manifestation of Conan knowing their own sound after three previous records and a handful of EP and split releases. The band crawls along in gradient shades of slow and manages to make every song fit right into the overarching sound of Existential Void Guardian, yet each song is different enough to be identifiable. “Eye To Eye To Eye” plods along at a thundering speed for its monolithic size, yet ends by repeatedly stomping your lifeless corpse into the ground until you’re one with it. “Volt Thrower” jerkily hops around with an angular take on the hopefully-patented Conan “caveman battle doom” sound, while “Eternal Silent Legend” lays right into the slowness.
Conan also doesn’t play into the more technical, genre-bending modern doom scene with their compositions. There are no dual guitar harmonies and progressive metal, Khemmis-esque song structures on Existential Void Guardian. Conan picks out a head-nod-worthy riff, slows it down, figures out a few excellent variations, and then plays it with all the powerful conviction of a band forcefully chugging away in front of a wall of amps to a crowd of thousands.
Existential Void Guardian is raw sonic might, plain and simple. Vocalist and guitarist Jon Davis has a certain throat-shredding rasp to his voice that seems to perfectly match the sizzling distortion on both his and bassist Chris Fielding’s stringed instruments. Then there’s new drummer Johnny King, who’s pounding the kit like he’s actively trying to break it. King’s playing is plenty nuanced throughout the record and really fattens up the music in a huge way. Songs like “Vexxagon” are loaded to the brim with sly and subtle fills between riff repetitions, but King is always holding back just enough to where he’s not overplaying the track.
Existential Void Guardian is a record that knows its strengths and constantly, unwaveringly plays to them. The only real curveball Conan throws is “Paincarnation,” a 54-second grind-ish track that could be fleshed out and incorporated more into the band’s future material, but comes and goes here as a standalone oddity, never to be repeated in any fashion throughout the rest of the album. It’s almost frustrating in the sense that you’re now aware of what else Conan is capable of and you’re just going to have to wait and see where it surfaces next, but ultimately the song isn’t detrimental to the record.
Aside from “Paincarnation” being short and “Volt Thrower” coming in at a brisk three minutes, Existential Void Guardian‘s tracks generally sit between five and seven crushing minutes of pitch black doom. There are no vocals but ones spewed forth from presumably shredded throats. There are (mostly) no riffs but ones played with presumably a clock as a metronome.
In the end, Existential Void Guardian is a solid effort because Conan isn’t trying to be anyone else but Conan. They’re going to tune slow, play slow, and bludgeon you to a slow and messy death with their proverbial wooden club, and you’re going to just have to sit there and hope you can recover from the cranial trauma afterward.