Thou- “Heathen”

thou heathen

It’s my job as a writer to pretend that my readers don’t know what I’m talking about. Most of you probably are familiar with some portion of the mile-long discography cultivated by Louisiana sludge fiends Thou. If you aren’t, it’s okay, because you’re about to be introduced to their newest album, one which is easily as worthwhile as anything the band has done to date. It’s nice to say, however, that Thou may be treading new territory in some ways, but they’re not quite reinventing themselves here either. This album stands as a natural progression on a sound Thou has worked hard to establish and define, but it doesn’t shy away from sounds that one would associate with Thou. In other words, get ready for another shining star in a consistent and heavy collection of albums.

Before putting on Heathen, I encourage you to grab snacks, a drink, or hit the restroom, because this album sticks around for over an hour. Yes, it’s worth every minute. No, you shouldn’t pause it, so seriously prepare yourself. I also recommend listening to this album without other distractions. I’ve listened while reading a book and I’ve listened while playing computer games. The album is fun to hear, but it absolutely does not work as background music. In fact, none of Thou’s albums to date have been good for background music. While a lot of metal is just as fine while you’re doing other stuff, Thou commands your attention in a way few bands can unless you’re actively at a show. So, with this all in mind, your first listen (once the album stream is available) should be one of focus and attention.

With the monolithic riffs that seem to conjure the very fury and primal strength of the earth’s plates as they shift, it would be too easy for Thou to allow their music to sink into distortion and murk, but they don’t. The very first thing I notice about this album is the production. The guitars have the right amount of crunch and edge, but they never blur into slop. This works perfectly on Heathen, as we see Thou expanding upon the endless harmonies they crafted on Summit alongside some truly violent sections. One of the claims I hate to hear from bands is that they made an album that is both heavier and prettier than their previous works. This is usually a sure sign of boastful and irrational thought, and seldom does anything to actually describe the album’s content. With this album, though, it’s rather accurate to say that this is just more of Thou in every direction. It’s bigger, shinier, and by golly I’d buy one for every member of my family if I thought they’d want it. But seriously, let’s look at some specifics here.

“Feral Faun” is an appropriately named song if there ever was one. It’s safe to say that this album sees Thou turning their backs on civilization and heading deep into the wilderness. Similarly, on a musical level, one might hear certain elements that would have been at home in more accessible music, yet Thou places them in a new context. The monumental buildup into something truly primal and vicious around seven minutes in is cathartic and gorgeous in a way that’s hard to put into words. Following this track is probably my favorite on the album, “Into the Marshlands,” which opens with beautiful riffs that hint at some of the finest moments of fellow Louisiana sludge legends Crowbar, but in a much deeper sonic palette. This song captures the beauty of struggle, something this whole album seems fixated upon. Our society of convenience seems to have caused us more trouble than fortune. Sometimes the fight to stay alive is the strongest and most beautiful thing we can experience, as it is the one thing we share with every other life form on the planet. The last forty-five seconds of the song especially lay down some of the catchiest grooves I’ve heard from any band ever, leaving me wishing for another five minutes. Still, the rest of the album continues to deliver, with every song displaying worthwhile highlights. As the band crawls to the album’s last minutes, the pace slows down yet none of the intensity is sacrificed. Indeed, with final track “Ode to Physical Pain,” it’s hard to tell if Thou is celebrating or lamenting suffering, but they do it as they do everything else they do: with passionate fury. It’s one hell of a ride and it’s not one I can easily put into words, but it’s one worth experiencing for yourself.

This album is currently available for pre-order from Gilead Media. NPR will host an album stream a week before the album’s release date of Marc h 25th. Keep your eyes here, as I will update this post with a link to NPR’s article and stream once it goes live. In the meantime, brace yourselves.

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