5/17/17 – Thou “Heathen” (2014)

Heathen was met with critical acclaim in 2014, and that’s when I was introduced to the band along with many others. Thou is an American Sludge Metal band, but I wouldn’t be quick to call their sound simply Sludge. It’s more of a mix between that and Black Metal, and bits of Doom Metal. The guitars are loud and slow, but there’s not always that heavy bass that you’d associate with Sludge. Singer Bryan Funck screams with a shrill and raspy voice, something you’d expect on a Black Metal album. What’s surprising is how well they mix all these sub-genres so well, and seem to have the best of both worlds.

Free Will is a massive song, reining in at just under 15 minutes, but it’s worth every second. Once the vocals hit I can’t break my attention away from this song, or this album for that matter, it’s just so commanding and enthralling. The song builds slowly to a chorus that is impossible to not headbang to:
“We are the stone that starts the avalanche
We are the cough that spreads the plague
We are the spark that lights the inferno”

Right after the intro song is one of the few interludes on Heathen, Dawn. This is when I realized the album was something special. The acoustic playing and atmosphere is just so haunting and ethereal. Normally an interlude right after the first song would feel out of place, but given Free Will’s length, it feels appropriate here. Feral Faun starts off with what sounds like another slow song, but it quickly ramps up to an destructive force that is pervasive on this album. Lyrically this album is as nihilistic and apocalyptic as you’d expect, full of rejection and scorn for this world. As in the song In Defiance of the Sages, Funck shrieks:
“No more heritage
Destroy the past completely along with its abortive children
Unauthentic present and rust-encrusted future
Now, we will create ruins
And after—something new and unimagined”

Clarity and Take Off Your Skin and Dance in Your Bones are the second and third respites in this album, and they are just as gorgeous as the first. I really like the contrasts between the tender interludes and the fury-filled Metal. Both sides are perfectly balanced on At the Foot of Mount Driskill, probably my favorite track on this album. More than any of the other songs it moves so fluidly between moods and ideas, but keeps the intensity up the whole time.

Heathen is finished with two colossal songs, Immortality Dictates and Ode to Physical Pain. They are somehow able to pull out all the stops and get their sound to even greater heights, even more intense. Immortality Dictates features guest vocalist Emily McWilliams, Bryan Funck’s girlfriend and occasional collaborator. She’s got a surprisingly fantastic voice for someone who apparently isn’t in a regular band. Researching the band I think this is Thou’s answer for when they feel the need for clean vocals, but want to keep Funck’s identity still with that shrieking yell. Ode to Physical Pain is just as brutal as the rest, and has what might be my favorite moment on the album. It closes out with a lone guitar, but the tone is just so bleak and emotive that I would often listen to this song again and again, just to hear it. This is an outstanding Metal album that really grows on you, and I can’t wait for their next LP.