Friday, 21 March 2014

Thou - Heathen


Thou. A band steeped in fervour and bathed in adoration by their fans. A band that stands aloft alongside their US peers like Protestant, Northless, Baroness and others, who place integrity and musical quality over material success. They've always been a constant throughout my descent into glorious tones of heavy metal and it's multitude of sub genres. They seem so familiar yet they are in truth so distant.

From Baton Rouge in Louisiana, they released their first demo in 2005 as they set off on a voyage of creativity that saw them release their first two full-lengths; Tyrant and Peasant, within a year of each other. A slew of ep's and split records followed before they released Summit (their third full length) in 2010. The next few years would see yet more ep's and splits, including one with UK sludge band Moloch before two years of silence after their last split with Hell in 2012. Late February of 2014 saw them emerge from their hibernation with Heathen, to further acclaim and excitement.

Tracklist:-

1. Free Will
2. Dawn
3. Feral Faun
4. Into The Marshland
5. Clarity
6. At The Foot of Mt Driskill
7. In Defiance of The Sages
8. Takes Off Your Skin And Dance In Your Bones
9. Immorality Dictates
10. Ode To Physical Pain

When most bands start albums with very long songs, people say they’re being brave or even edgy, but that’s not the case with Thou. Free Will is over fourteen minutes long, but it epitomises what Thou are all about. Their slow, sludgy bass tones, their lonely guitar tracks and occasional percussion swathes create palpable anticipation as the among builds. Musically, I liken them to bands like Light Bearer but they do very much have their form as well. 

With such a long song, the vocals don’t their presence felt until nearly five minutes have passed but when they do, they are full of nightmarish, almost black metal tones. They blend with the soundscape behind perfectly well. Going back to that bass that I was talking about above, it gives Free Will a warm undercurrent of low-rumble, which is strangely warming. It’s a glorious noise from start to end.

Dawn is the first interlude on Heathen and it breaks up the gloom with a majestic acoustic guitar passage. The rich instrumental passages throughout Heathen are both barren and heartwarming in equal measure. The introduction of Feral Faun emphases this with intricate guitar work that rises in volume, as it matches the drums before Thou again unfurl their sludge. It’s different to Free Will in it’s delivery and doesn’t feel as claustrophobic. The shorter running time adding a subtle sense of urgency.

Into The Marshlands could well be an ode to their home-state landscape. The further you get into both the song and Heathen as a whole, the more you become part of it and really start to appreciate it. In a world where music is becoming increasingly watered down on the one hand, and harder to digest on the other, it seems that Thou have found the right formula. I may only be four songs in (three if you don’t count interludes) and I’m already in so deep that I can’t help but smile from ear to ear. 

It’s broken up once again by another interlude, going by the name of Clarity, which is very apt as it’s full of it. The second of four songs spanning over ten minutes, At The Foot of Mount Driskill is another body of music that threatens to crush you. If you’re at all familiar with New Zealanders Meth Drinker, you’ll know exactly how this song sounds. Bleak and terrifying! That being said, the melodic guitar does add colour and a ray of positivity to the record.

The idea of interspersing their longer songs with shorter, faster ones is a good one as In Defiance of The Sages proves. There dirty southern grooves that find their way into the song via the low-end are hella fun during the opening bars before Thou do their usual trick, of slowing the pace ever so slightly as the song flows on. They experiment with guitar tones, that bend like a possessed chainsaw at times and as the fades away, the breath of relief is obvious. It makes way for the third interlude of Take Off Your Skin And Dance In Your Bones. The quiet side of Thou may be a polar opposite to their distorted, rumble foundation but it’s a variation that is welcomed.

Some of Thou’s softer side makes it onto the opening bars of Immorality Dictates, which seems to feature more ambience that on previous songs. It hints at more immersive things to come, as the ambience fades in and out and it replaced by female singing and choral melodies. Turn it up and it’s haunting. The words are very pronounced and the vocals from Emily McWilliams are very otherworldly. Add to that her instrumental arrangements, this song is easily the standout track on Heathen.

By the time close Ode To Physical Pain comes into view, the journey that is Heathen has worn you out but at the same time energised you. It follows where Immorality Dictates left off initially before Thou launch into their final blackened assault. The rasping vocals of Bryan Funck seem re-energised and push on to he albums end, keeping momentum throughout. The instruments relishing one more opportunity to close in on the listener, like walls of nails in the movies and it’s gloriously murky, even though the production is not deliberately so. It lends Thou a clearer sound but what that is not fraught with perfection. 


Heathen is pretty breathtaking and leaves you feeling cleansed. Sometime the most negative of experiences and circumstances in life can have positive effects and the same can be said for music. Everyone should experience Thou and their claustrophobic sludge. Heathen is incredible.

You can stream Heathen in it's entirety here - http://www.npr.org/2014/03/16/288676098/first-listen-thou-heathen.

There's also a number of place you can pick Heathen up from and in a variety of formats:-

CD from Gilead Media - http://www.gileadmedia.net/releasedirectory/relic48-thou-heathen-gatefold-cd/
Vinyl from Vendetta Records (Europe) - http://vendettarecords.wordpress.com/shop-webstore/
Vinyl from Howling Mine (US) - http://noladiy.org/howlingmine.html
Tape from Robotic Empire - https://www.roboticempire.com

Thou Website - http://noladiy.org/thou.html
Gilead Media Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/gileadmedia
Vendetta Records Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/pages/vendetta
Robotic Empire Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/roboticempire

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