Metal Monday Presents
Thou w/ Dream Decay
Kiefcatcher and Acid Roach
Thursday, September 14, 2017
18+ $10 ADV // $12 DOS
Within a genre that prides itself on theatricality, Thou’s lack of pretension and their commitment to the DIY world from where they came is refreshing. The band refuses to hide behind elaborate stage shows or tour laminates, releases boatloads of new material every year, and still prefers to pile into their beat-up red van and play all-ages DIY spaces. They hail from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but could seemingly care less about fulfilling anyone else’s “Southern sludge” stereotypes. Basically, Thou have always been Thou, and their stellar new album, Heathen is a portrait of a band that is in complete harmony with itself, if not the world it inhabits.
It’s also their first full-length since 2010’s also stunning Summit, though the band have released a cavalcade of splits, EPs, and covers since then. They’re nothing if not prolific, and luckily, everything they’ve released since their first 2005 demo easily stands up to the most rigorous standards (especially their penchant for recording brutalizing Nirvana covers). This album is no exception. Though Heathen stretches well past the hour mark, the album must be digested as a whole.
The bruising power these songs wield is great and terrible. This fourth full-length is undeniably the band’s most punishing work, and yet is also their most beautiful. Thou explore their melodic potential to an almost startling extent, and devote more than a few moments of the sprawling collection to gentle, uplifting harmonies. The rivers of oppressive sludge are broken up by three short, quiet instrumentals, written around pastoral acoustic guitars that occasionally echo Earth’s dreamy recent output. For the first time, they’ve allowed a faint glimmer of light to shine through the overbearing gloom.
Not only that, but for the first time, the album also includes clean vocals courtesy of close band ally Emily McWilliams. Her warm, clear tones lighten up the darkness, and add an almost joyful element to Heathen’s shuddering dirges. McWilliams also played puppetmaster for all the strings and horns that pepper the album and add splashes of color to Thou’s usual dark sonic palette.
The album’s first track, “Free Will”, is ominous and somber, building in intensity over the course of nearly 15 minutes and neatly exemplifying what’s so compelling about Thou’s trance-inducing chords and tense, ultimately cathartic crescendos. Vocalist Bryan Funck’s near-feral howl commands and chastises, laying out the album’s themes of power, despair, defiance, and free will. His delivery may verge upon black metal in its throat-scraping mania, but the words he speaks are grounded in crushing reality, not fantasy. The demons he confronts are real.
The aforementioned first track, “Into the Marshlands”, and “Immortality Dictates” stand out as album highlights, with the latter sneaking up out of the gloam. In direct contrast to its stark title, the third and longest interlude “Take Off Your Skin and Dance in Your Bones” follows one bright, rippling melody before sinking deep into the mire with the next track’s explosive bait and switch. “Immortality Dictates” underscores McWilliams’ wispy vocals with a ghostly choir, then plunges straight into a caustic dull roar. Other songs like “At the Foot of Mount Driskill” and mournful closer “Ode to Physical Pain” are more inclusive, weaving strains of melody over and under abrasive, fuzz-drenched doom riffs in more traditional Thou style.
They may have lightened up a bit, but Thou have definitely not lost their ability to shock and awe. Those who appreciate the electric frisson of the band’s lumbering doom riffs and Funck’s acerbic snarl will find much to appreciate here, and it’s hard to see even a casual listener taking issue with the more experimental bent of the LP, especially when it works so well. Consumed by struggle and steeped in agony, Thou have truly reached a summit. – Kim Kelly (Pitchfork review)
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