Thou - Heathen
Gilead Media
10 songs (01:14:36)
Release year: 2014
Gilead Media
Reviewed by Charles
Album of the month
Thou attract an increasingly reverential cult, and it is not too difficult to understand why. I recently read Kim Kelly’s review of Heathen which offers it as an early pick for best album of 2014, and while it seems a bit early for that the band undeniably has something special. Simply, their music is intense- I think that is probably the best word. It is a stripped down and extreme take on doom that avoids both bluesy retro comfort and avant-garde indulgence. Instead, it comes across as raggedy and raw, almost like a grunge band (they covered the Nirvana classic Something in the Way on the Archer and the Owle EP from 2011, and it suited them perfectly), but one that has grown up listening to Neurosis and maybe even the odd black metal record, as suggested by the rasping harsh vocals (some of the band is also in the pretty-sodding-grim Barghest).

Heathen is not all that different to Summit, Thou’s last, much-admired, full-length, but it does add some depth to that record’s sound. It is still based around a small number of long, immersive tracks, even if this time there are various little bits of atmosphere-building fluff in between the epics. Listening to the first few minutes of first number Free Will, with its clean-strummed opening chords, there is a sense of drifting melancholy that perhaps introduces the album as something a bit more emotionally open than before. But over its fifteen minute running time the song builds like a tidal wave into a swell of frightening doom riffs. To my ears, these channel Godflesh, albeit stripped of the industrial influences. It sounds desperate and harsh, but also weirdly euphoric- see also the anguished, multi-harmonised doom riffs on Into the Marshland, with its sublime flittering between tuneful sadness and booming hostility.

Some of the other tracks, like Feral Faun, churn like this pretty much throughout- which can be draining given a ten minute running time, though never dull. But perhaps the key thing that I think this record contributes is a stronger sense of dynamics. See, for example, closer Ode to Physical Pain. It begins with supremely evocative interplay between guitar and acoustic piano (they have a real talent for using the latter in an extreme doom context- see also Grissecon from Summit) which conjures a kind of post-apocalyptic saloon bar ambiance, before building into a punishing climax. Then there is At the Foot of Mount Driskill, which begins as dark, thudding and abstract, but as it progresses we can begin to discern melodic lines shimmering through. In short, this is really a tour de force, and it is difficult to see how other 2014’s other doom releases are going to compete with it.

Killing Songs :
Free Will, Into the Marshlands, At the Foot of Mount Driskill, Ode to Physical Pain
Charles quoted 93 / 100
Other albums by Thou that we have reviewed:
Thou - Summit reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
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