Sunday, March 30, 2014
Review: Thou - Heathen (Gilead Media)
Seeing Thou live for the first time was a religious experience of sorts for me. It was at the end of the first Gilead Fest and after hours of other metal bands including Mutilation Rites, False, and Barghest among a slew of others, Thou closed the fest. As they took the stage I stood anxiously in the very front, I was about to see my favorite band play my favorite album in it's entirety. The sheer weight of their performance was astounding, I felt every crushing blow, every murky riff. At that moment I knew I was in, metal had consumed me and this was the final strike. After listening to Heathen, Thou once again solidify the reason that their music has captivated and affected me so deeply.
Heathen is massive, not only in length (reaching nearly an hour and fifteen minutes) but in sheer weight as well. Thou continue to write music based on perfectly crafted riffs. Riffs that are crushingly slow and devastating, coming straight from the Louisiana swamps. The riffs in the track "At the Foot of Mt. Driskill" contain the ancient and elemental power of the mountain that is the song's namesake. The passage at the end of the fourth track, "Into the Marshlands," is one of the most exceptional doom riffs I have ever come across. Honestly, when I first heard it I had to experience the sheer power of the section over and over again, every time I got more sucked in, enthralled by the groove Thou creates. I was so drawn in by that singular aspect of the album I couldn't move forward until I had fully processed it. The meticulousness that they pour into every portion of each song is astonishing, the dual guitars always complement each other perfectly, the drums are thunderous blows working together with the throbbing bass to continuously hold the groove together. All this attention to detail is contained within vicious and devastatingly heavy music. Not only is the music heavy but the subject matter of the lyrics is as well, focused on the rejection of this civilization, of time, of all social norms and constructs. Funck sings with his venomous rasp about returning to the fertile earth and his lyrics are beautifully poetic, riddled with symbolism, anarchism, and primitivism. This music is born out of the dejection created by our modern society and the feeling is palpable.
Strangely enough, while this is Thou's heaviest work to date it is also their most melodic. Sometimes melody complements seriously destructive riffs, like in the middle of "Free Will" where soaring melodies accompany the ruin. Sometimes it is left to shine on it's own, like in the interlude tracks Thou place throughout the album. These ethereal droning folk segments work beautifully juxtaposed against the rest of the album's sheer weight. Melody often is used begin and end songs with more delicate segments like on the two final tracks. The first of the two being "Immortality Dicates," which features the beautiful vocals of Emily McWilliams who has actually collaborated with Thou before on their split with Salome. McWilliams' vocals are both haunting and captivating, lulling the listener into a calm, quiet place before Thou's swampy sludge takes the reigns. The last track "Ode to Physical Pain" begins with a droning section reminiscent of Earth's recent work in the realm western drone and ends with a similar, although more disjointed, melodic piece. Melody is used by Thou in a twofold approach, to lament our slavish nature to society but also to act as a harbinger to a new world, one free of such restraints, a world that Thou has dreamt of through this record.
I had extremely high expectations following Thou's last full length, Summit, and subsequent EPs and splits, these expectations were not only met but exceeded. As someone who at one point in their life basically only listened to Thou, honestly pretty obsessively, I am quite familiar with their entire back catalogue. Heathen is a shining jewel in a sterling crown of doom. Through adding new, subtle textures and applying the same level of detailed songwriting combined with crushing riffs, Thou have created something devastatingly beautiful. You can pick up the CD from Gilead Media here, the packaging is beautiful and comes with all sorts of extras. The album can also be streamed and downloaded directly from the band here. This record comes with the highest possible recommendation, stop reading this and go experience it immediately.