In the past decade, Thou has become a household name in the heavy music scene. Arguably Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s best artistic export, the band has churned out an unrelenting stream of releases year after year, with 2018 possibly proving to be their most prolific yet. Of the four (yeah…4) records issued by them in the space of the last few months, their upcoming full length Magus, which sees the light of day via Sacred Bones Records on 8/31, is the one most representative of the totality of the band’s oeuvre up to this point. This new offering feels as though it follows in the footsteps of their 2014 LP Heathen, but does not tread precisely the same ground.
What is evident in both Thou’s historic output as well as their current maneuvering is that they are operating at a level above many of the sludge bands sharing space with them in the current musical moment. Their sound imports much from crust, grunge, shoegaze, and doom. Their aesthetic incorporates a wide range of subcultural political, artistic, and philosophical impulses. They tour relentlessly, and have found a home in DIY venues and clubs alike. They write constantly and still manage to surprise with a cover of Depeche Mode or Soundgarden’s 4th of July, or a grunge influenced EP full of guest vocalists (2018’s earlier release Rhea Silvia). Rarely does a truly heavy band attempt to encompass such an expansive range of stylistic elements, or receive such universal acclaim for it.
If Thou’s other recent releases could be seen as an attempt to showcase particular aspects of the band’s sound that are not always under the spotlight on their LP’s, then Magus represents the coming together of all those facets once again into a cohesive work. The album lumbers and rattles and glistens all at once, like a vortex of heavy musical textures. This is most definitely the Thou presented on the slower movements of Heathen – brooding darkly upon the nature of the self and existence and scraping hollow the heart of the universe. However, there are no fast riffs here, no bursts of scathing blackened rage, rather every thought and musical phrase feels as though it uncoils in excruciating slow motion, like a poisonous flower blossoming.
As one might expect from that description, Magus is a record built to crush the listener in terms of pure sonic weight as well as on an emotional level. On opening track Inward, vocalist/lyricist Bryan Funck’s vicious rasp finds him grappling with the complexities of self criticism and self elevation. Musically, the song enters the fray as a winding branch of thorny dissonance and suffocating heaviness. With this statement, Thou indicates and solidifies the thematic arc of the entire work. Here we find dark forays into the nature of the individual, personality, and identity. Here we plow through turgid rivers of distortion and corrosive melody.
Magus is a long record, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Thou’s previous LP’s; Heathen clocked in at about 75 minutes, and Magus has a similar running time. As a result, it is extremely difficult to parse in a cohesive way for review purposes if a track by track rundown is something you enjoy. Additionally, Thou has a tendency to write huge and meandering pieces of music that subvert the usual experience of listening to one track at a time or really just focusing on a particular song. The album works well as a whole, or in halves, or digested several tracks at a time, as this enables one to lose themselves in the world Thou is creating for an extended period, with songs blending together to create a more varied atmosphere. I did find myself drawn to certain tracks over and over, in particular the back to back combo of Transcending Dualities and The Changeling Prince, both of which feature some of my favorite moments the band has recorded, and the vicious repetition of the final lines of The Changeling Prince: “behind the mask, another mask” bring things to a climactic close there.
With Magus, Thou bring their fans yet another complex and weighty excursion into the depths of melancholy and crushing heaviness. For those who may be discovering the band for the first time, Magus is a challenging listen, but a good gauge of what Thou really is; a band that values artistry and intellectual focus, and one with extensive musical and lyrical influences and willingness to reach outside their perceived genre to create something unique and far beyond what is typical in heavy music.
Release Date: August 31, 2018
Label: Sacred Bones Records
Favorite Tracks: Transcending Dualities, The Changeling Prince
For Fans Of: Eyehategod, Crowbar, Amenra