Review: Thou Achieve Doom Perfection on ‘Heathen’
If Thou were not called Thou, they could have been called Potential, or perhaps even better, Prolific. The band is a constant reminder of just how non-DIY your band is. They continue to tour endlessly in a van, their live shows are just them and their music, no bells or whistles. Not even evil bells, or “underground” whistles. Most importantly, the band cranks out music at an alarming pace. Music that is always great. I also respect their need to carve out an identity that is wholly unique. Hailing from Baton Rouge, LA, Thou has zero interest in helping to define the current trend of “southern sludge”.
2010 found Thou unleashing Summit, an album that left many jaws agape. Beyond Summit, the band released several splits, EPs, and random slabs of sound. Now, in the year of our lord 2014, Thou fire both barrels into the chest of extreme music with Heathen.
This brings me back to "potential" and "prolific". Thou’s prolific release schedule allows them to constantly examine what they do. While most bands sit for several years trying to figure out the next move, Thou just record something and put it out. That constant forward motion allows them to see music differently. They see the potential in all side of the journey, which leads to new textures and connections.
Heathen is another translation of Thou’s journey. This time the band has decided to add a small, delicate stream of light to their all-encompassing darkness. Opening with the nearly fifteen minute track “Free Will”, Thou remind us why we live for their releases. Dark, depressed, ominous and destructive, “Free Will” is a crashing black ocean of catharsis and desperation. Vocalist Bryan Funck has a visceral, primal howl that is second to no one.
From the storm comes the calm, but just a hint of it. “Dawn” is an eighty-second dance of acoustic guitars and strings. What’s so brilliant here is how Thou lead into, “Feral Faun” with that same tense, acoustic, calm. You’re caught off guard, immersed in these beautiful constructs that seem so outside what Thou are about. When the crash comes, and “Feral Faun” unloads, the effect is devastating. This is an economy of notes and rhythms that cashes in perfectly.
Thou continues to launch attack after attack. The dark, menacing sludge crawl of “Into The Marshlands”, the schizophrenic battle between light and dark that makes up “At The Foot Of Mount Driskill”, or the simple punishment of guitars and heavy drums that allows “In Defiance Of The Sages” to sound like man raging at the Gods over the emptiness of the human soul. Track after track, Thou just find the new potential in their writing and run with it.
As the man says, “But wait, there’s more”. Thou had us all fooled. They had punished us in various dimensions, but saved the best for last. “Immortality Dictates” is staggering. Joining Thou is vocalist Emily Williams, whose voice is haunting, beautiful, unnerving and lush all at once. Hovering over the light strings and horns of “Immortality Dictates”, Thou and Williams add yet another side to what Thou can do. When the heavier aspects arrive, Thou builds them naturally, giving the heavier movement a feeling of counterbalance as opposed to a cheap “oh shit now it gets heavy”.
Thou close out Heathen with “Ode To Physical Pain”, which is played to make sure the title fits perfectly. This is the final breakdown, the absolute last release of the album. In the end, Heathen leaves you breathless, stammering for a way to process everything you’ve just heard. Thou offers no resolution to the dark journey, just an underlying idea that we are all on it. A community of heartache and sadness broken up by small bits of joy and light. Thou are able to translate the darkest parts of the human soul into music, and for that we should all be grateful.