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Thou - Magus Music Album Reviews

The Baton Rouge sludge-metal quintet's fifth proper full-length marks the latest tsunami in the endless storm of defeaning sound, political fury, and overwhelming prolificness that is Thou.

In more than a decade as a band, Baton Rouge sludge-metal quintet Thou have released music at a stunning rate. Collaborations with other outré metal acts, like the Body; splits with and covers of extreme brethren of all stripes; LPs and EPs and singles—they just never stop. Their immense catalog could be summed up as, say, post-metal stoner-doom with post-rock and ambient flourishes, but the sheer volume of their output seems more essential to their identity. And throughout all that material, even well before the “Great Awokening” made it trendy, they were pushing, and practicing, progressive politics. Magus, the band’s fifth proper full-length, heralds the latest tsunami in the endless storm of defeaning sound, political fury, and overwhelming prolificness that is Thou. The album surges and undulates with the dread that it’s only a matter of time before the waves—another outrage, another onslaught, another record—crash in again.

Despite the pace at which they work, Thou have always been a precision crew. Across Magus’ 11 tracks, they fold odd meters and splashy drum fills into their thick neon sludge. But they also leave room for plenty of surprises. From the sneak-attack intro of opener “Inward” to vocalist Emily McWilliams’ entrance on “Divine Will,” there’s something around every corner—but you can’t really say that something is lurking. Lurking may, in fact, be the posture Thou assume least often. Their stance is far more conspicuous. There are countless explosive moments and precise edges here, all wrapped in squalls of fuzz.

Less volatile tracks, like closer “Supremacy,” with its portentous crash and drone, recall the early noise-rock output of the band’s new Sacred Bones labelmates the Men. The riffs on “Transcending Dualities” sizzle like the fuse on a cartoon bomb, a toothsome wah-wah effect scratching its way down the frequency spectrum. Some of the compositions are so dynamic, encompassing so many beautiful, epic, emotional moments, I had to check the tracklist to believe Thou had packed them all into the same lengthy song. The end of “Sovereign Self” harnesses the energy of a groove without feeling outright groovy and unleashes a ferocity free of any alienating, acerbic edge. Guitarists Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium do much of the heavy lifting on the album, riding catchy rhythms while avoiding the blues clichés to which sludge-metal bands so often default.

The lyrics (if not the recordings themselves, whose roaring vocals are mostly incomprehensible) reveal a sprawling metaphysical parable: Vocalist Bryan Funck journeys to the battered core of the human condition, examining the nature of hate by looking within himself. While the material is not exactly new for Thou, it’s certainly more refined here than it has ever been before. Thou don’t need to recalibrate their point of view with each release, because each release is still bringing them closer to the white-hot core of their Thou-ness. Their moves are geological in timescale; the slightest shift in attitude rings through the eons that follow. By that measure alone, Magus is an essential record in the vast Thou canon.

The earth-shaking revelation here is Funck’s ferocious pronouncement, on “Elimination Rhetoric,” that, “Yes, we have hatred: A searing hatred for prevailing design, a searing hatred for limiting belief, a callous disregard for ignorance.” It’s an exhilarating conclusion, if also one that short-circuits logic: When directed against the structural institutions that allow worse kinds of hate to foster, hate can be not only good, but also productive.

Pair these radical epiphanies with the serpentine imagery of pestilence, offal, and rot common to the interior landscapes Funck conjures, and you’re listening to a fire sermon that is equal parts Bashō, Virgil, and Antifa. What’s transcendent about both the music and the lyrics of Magus is the way it lives in the build-up to a war that is only just beginning. Miles away from the battlefield, Thou have already got the enemy in the crosshairs of their righteous hatred. Funck and his band are perceptive enough to know what is at stake here—what the future could be: a boot stamping on a human face forever. That’s the real fight, and Thou are ready for it.

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