2. THOU, “Magus” (Sacred Bones)

There are plenty of bands that have had noteworthy years, but perhaps none other have accomplished what Thou have. The Baton Rouge-based doom/grunge warriors always have been a prolific group, but this year was a particularly fruitful one with three EPs all of varying styles, a great split with Ragana, and their earth-quaking fifth full-length “Magus,” our No. 2 album of the year.

Doing these lists is never easy, as there’s a lot of back and forth, scratching out list positions, tearing things apart, and trying again. This year’s top two spots were the hardest we’ve ever had to determine, and “Magus” and what ultimately got the No. 1 nod almost could be tied at the top spot, something we considered for about five seconds before realizing that’s a cowardly way out. But “Magus” is an amazing document, one worthy of being celebrated for years to come which, knowing Thou’s back catalog, is bound to happen. It’s that good, that meaningful.

“Magus” is the band’s 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,” grungy and awesome “Rhea Sylvia,” as well as the Ragana split “Let Our Names Be Forgotten,” and they do so in a way that will level you.

Um … Thou (Photo by Craig Mulcahy)

“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. “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. 10:54 closer “Supremacy” launches into slow-grinding pounding, 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 are one of the most impactful, important bands in all of heavy music, and this past year proved why. “Magus” in an amazing opus that grows on you with each listen and provides more depth than many of the other records you’ll hear no matter how heavy or brutal. That’s because Thou come from an aspect of personal and societal truth and struggle, things that are far more devastating than any devil holding a pitchfork.

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/