PICK OF THE WEEK: Thou continue to defy expectations, turn view inward on stirring opus ‘Magus’

Um … Thou (Photo by Craig Mulcahy)

There are bands whose records you cannot just put on and let the music play in the background while you remain emotionally unaffected. There is nothing wrong with bands like that at all, as there is something valuable in putting music on and zoning out. But there arguably is more value in music that almost literally climbs inside of you, operates your heart and mind, and leaves you a different person. Thou, at least for me, always have been one of the bands that do that every time out.

This year has been a hell of a year for any Thou fan, as they delivered four incredibly varying releases that show different sides of their personalities and musical DNA. Now comes the big one, “Magus,” their fifth full-length effort and first for Sacred Bones. This 11-track, 75-minute excursion is a mammoth, a record you never will unpack in one or even five listens, and another volcano of an emotional experience from a band that doesn’t give a single fuck about your metal aesthetic. This record isn’t a huge departure from 2014’s “Heathen,” our album of the year that year, but it’s not a repeat or a reworking of ideas. It’s an album that moves the earth with themes of alienation, boredom, futility, decay, the awfulness of history, agony, pain, and personal introspection at a time when so many people are fast to point fingers. A lot of these themes are woven throughout their monstrous catalog, and this feels like their natural evolution in the Thou story. The band—vocalist Bryan Funck, guitarists Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium, bassist Mitch Wells, and drummer Josh Nee—delivers this cataclysmic conclusion to their latest body of work that also includes noisy “The House Primordial,” lush and quiet “Inconsolable,” and grungy and awesome “Rhea Sylvia,” and they do so in a way that will level you.

“Inward” starts like a swirling storm you can hear in the distance when, all of a sudden, it breaks. The music, while traditionally doomy in the Thou sense, also swims in atmosphere, as Funck’s wild wails spit nails. The guitars cut through the heart, while things get heavier and muddier toward the end, bleeding into a bath of light and interlude track “My Brother Caliban” that’s situated in buried shrieks and fuzzy sound. “Transcending Dualities” has guitars churning and a calculated melody emerging. The pace sounds like it’s hunting prey, while Funck wails about “shapeshifting through life,” as the melodies bleed, and the tumult rises and falls. “The Changeling Prince” has leads barreling in, while the song then openly clubs you, with growls lurching and even some lighter tones spreading later on. Funck’s vocals stab at a “haunted fractured reality,” as things barrel toward a climactic finish, where Funck repeatedly howls, “Behind the mask, another mask,” while he digs for his subject’s true essence. “Sovereign Self” starts solemnly, with Emily McWilliams lending her haunting voice, and the track bursting with emotion. The vocals rip things apart, while burly riffs send shockwaves through the earth, causing pavement to ripple. The pace applies devastating pressure, with melodies raining, the drums rumbling out, and focus heading toward “Divine Will,” where an angelic chorus calls back, “We are the sages reincarnated, up to our old tricks again.”

“In the Kingdom of Meaning” has airy guitars that hint at calm before the track slowly breaks open, and Funck’s vocals delivering bruising. The playing here, while filthy and mashing, also is daring and exciting, as the guitars carve new paths, extending Thou’s kingdom. Later on, the track gets slower and liquidy, as the band looks to carve into hearts, and McWilliams returns to add a ghostly touch to a song that burns itself into the air. “Greater Invocation of Disgust” threatens from the start, as growls explode, and fluid melodies pour from the track’s mouth. “We’ve got nothing but hatred,” Funck cries, more as an observation than a comment on self-state, and great leads and a muddy path make this song tougher and meaner. “Elimination Rhetoric” starts with harsh cries, slow-driving menace, and a riff that feels gothic and dark. Acoustics wash under the madness, with the leads adding warmth, emotional, moody melodies spreading, and the vocals scorching the earth. “I can help myself, don’t talk to me,” Funck repeats, with thing coming to a hammering end. “The Law Which Compels” is the final interlude track, built by noise, smothered growls, and guitars bubbling, heading toward the 10:54 closer “Supremacy” that launches into slow-grinding pounding, even with some cleaner lines woven within the soot. “Consumed by inner fires!” Funck howls, as beauty and carnage twist together, weird melodies rewire your brain, and noise simmers, threatening overflow. The band then bludgeons over and over and over again, thrashing your head, leaving you clinging to metallic sound clouds that eventually dissolve into mystery and leave a vapor spray on steel.

Thou remain one of metal’s most important, genuine bands, even if the group itself eschews labeling itself that type of force in the first place. “Magus” is another landmark achievement from the band, a record you will remember where you were and what you were doing the first time you heard it and the first time it truly struck a nerve. There is no one else out their making music quite like Thou, and even though they don’t put themselves above anyone, we’re all still looking back up at them anyway.

For more on the band, go here: http://noladiy.org/thou/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/products/sbr205-thou-magus

For more on the label, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

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