Written by: AP on 24/07/2019 15:31:18

Despite the prolificacy of their output, Thou is not the most obvious artist to choose when discussing the evolution and current state of sludge metal. The Baton Rouge, LA-based six-piece is usually accoladed as a cult band, admired by those in the know and neglected by the rest. But it requires some serious artistic credentials to be hand-picked as the artist in residence at the iconic Roadburn Festival — an honour which was bestowed upon Thou in 2019 — so if you are still unfamiliar with the southerners, now is the time to dive into their extensive discography (most of which consists of EPs and splits), starting with their latest full-length offering “Magus”, and grow wiser as to why the band is held in such high regard by connoisseurs like Roadburn’s artistic director Walter Hoeijmakers.

Whether Thou is something for you should already be settled by the time the opening track “Inward” has wound to a conclusion. Clocking in at over 10 minutes of running length, it delivers a thorough presentation of the Louisiana group’s style, which entails trudging rhythms, dense and noxious riffs, funereal melodies and anguished, crackling growls by vocalist Bryan Funck. The music seethes with misanthropy as Funck decries idolatry, misogyny, racism and other societal ills in his lyrics, but unlike the hardcore punk in which Thou’s music ultimately is rooted, he is not reacting outward in protest — instead, he examines the nature of that hatred by searching his own soul. But while Thou have a lot in common with Eyehategod in terms of the themes explored, musically the band aligns itself closer to Graves at Sea on their magisterial début album “The Curse That Is”. The movements that take place in songs like “Transcending Dualities” and “The Changeling Prince” are geological in their timescale as the genre dictates, but there is so much grandeur loaded into the underlying instrumentation that they never get to be tedious — not only by virtue of the trident of guitarists formed by Andy Gibbs, Kara Stafford and Matthew Thudium, but also the elegant usage of electronic ambiance, samples and soft singing by Funck’s girlfriend Emily McWilliams in many of the tracks.

Some critics have focused on Thou’s tendency to overindulge and exhaust motifs through repetition and extensive layering as a negative thing, but if you are already predisposed to the doom aesthetic, then it is hard to imagine this becoming an issue during the 75 minutes “Magus” lasts (although the length of the album can in and of itself be an impediment). The band’s 2010-album “Summit” was certainly more direct than either of 2014’s “Heathen” or this latest offering, but Thou has never been in the business of easy listening — they like to build monoliths like “Sovereign Self” and “In the Kingdom of Meaning” that slowly tighten their grip on the listener as they build up the atmosphere and writhe toward an epic crescendo. Both of these tracks and indeed also the closing piece “Supremacy” demand a lot from the listener, but their bountiful soundscapes offer rich rewards for the curious and the patient. Still, not everything on “Magus” is a turtle’s crawl; “Greater Invocation of Disgust” picks up the pace and brings sludgy devastation to the table in some of the heaviest moments on the entire record, while the subsequent “Elimination Rhetoric” offers lavish melodies as well as an invitation to sing along to Funck’s maddening refrains of “I can’t help myself, don’t talk to me!”, before it bleeds out into “The Law Which Compels”, which is one of those rare intermezzos that actually add something to a record.

After “Supremacy” has brought the album to a conclusion then, it is easy to understand why Thou are held in such reverence by their loyal following and frequently lauded by the critics that stumble across their music. At the same time, however, the sheer magnitude and weight of an opus such as “Magus” inevitably renders the band an acquired taste — resigned, it seems, to plying their trade out of sight. But be that as it may, the righteous lyricism and stunning musical vistas on offer here mean “Magus” is a must-have on the selves of doom and sludge metal record collectors, one that is certain to haunt me in the years to come.


Download: Transcending Dualities, The Changeling Prince, In the Kingdom of Meaning, Elimination Rhetoric
For the fans of: Eyehategod, Graves at Sea, Primitive Man, Yob
Listen: Bandcamp

Release date 31.08.2018
Sacred Bones Records

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