Thou are a band constantly mutating. Obscurity and convolution are key forces of their cryptic, esoteric approach to sludge and doom. Three vastly different sounding EPs have already been released this year, a trilogy that acts as a prelude to Magus, their fifth full-length that unifies and reconciles the disparate nature of EPs The House Primordial, Incosolable and Rhea Sylvia. 2014’s Heathen hit me hard – the band’s combination of monstrous sludge noise, ethereal melodies, solemn interludes, cryptic poetic lyrics, and painful snarling vocals mesmerized me, at first at least. Its 75-minute length made it difficult to consume though, especially with the punishing nature of the music. Isolated tracks still standout as some of the most gutwrenching, vicious tracks I’ve heard. The three EPs leading up to Magus left me confused yet anticipatory – the rawness of The House Primordial, the acoustic subtlety of Inconsolable, and the Alice in Chain‘s inspired grunge sound of Rhea Sylvia, on paper, seemed difficult to unify. But Thou are a band I believe can combine these things organically, or so I hope.
“This album is dedicated to the sacred ego, that wellspring of individuality and unique complexity,” the band state on their Bandcamp. Don’t expect to be grooving along to this dense beast at a house party. Magus is a continuation of Heathen with subtle differences – ambient and electronic interjections and a stronger implementation of melody – changing the journey. Instantly, the distorted, bass-heavy riffs that the band are known for are present. Opener “Inward” trudges forth with four-minutes of dense, monotone riffing that sucks up any trace of melody. A flash of tender colour midway through in the form of high-pitched chords offers brief reprieve, but for the most part Thou are satisfied to drain their sound of any lightness. These heavy riffs are commonplace, but Magus has a few less-formulaic tricks up its sleeve. The best example of Magus‘ sound is “The Changeling Prince” which travels through skewed melancholic vistas. It’s a shimmering mid-paced track that has heaviness and tenderness trading blows at frequent intervals. Thunderous slabs of sludge surge through the core of the song, although light, open-stringed clarity frequently emerges like a break in the clouds. Higher-pitched melodies are a more regular feature throughout the record, usually writhing for space above the claustrophobic low end rather than settling into a groove of their own.
Lyrically, Thou are on point again. A combination of a captivating vocal delivery by Bryan Funck – harsh, punishing yet clear – and cryptic yet not too over-the-top lyrics embellish many moments on Magus. The mantra ‘behind the mask another mask’ at the end of “The Changeling Prince” completes an excellently constructed song. In “In the Kingdom of Meaning” vocal bursts such as the Funck’s cry of ‘writhing in chaos’ intermingles with swirling, overlayed vocals and Emily McWilliam’s clean interjections to captivating, chaotic effect. The calming vocals of Emily McWilliams are present once again, a soothing remedy to the vitriol at the heart of the vast majority of Magus.
There are slithers of the sounds explored more prominently on their EPs. “Invocation of Disgust” opens with a drooping bass line straight from early 90s Alice in Chains. Its grungy tone carries through as thick solos and punchier riffs drive the song into more accessible territories. In this vein, the hard and crusty exterior of “Elimination Rhetoric,” initially dense and punishing with its constant slabs of downcast sludge, is cracked at the five-minute mark when a beautiful solo, accompanied by Elder-esque lightness, surges into the open. This is fleeting though. Darkness is quick to regain its domain, though flecks of beauty in the form of melodic licks do fight back. The acoustic lightness of Inconsolable is no where to be found on Magus, which is unfortunate. Instead, the raw noise of The House Primordial seeps into the mix, most blatantly during the three-minute interlude “The Law Which Compels.”
Magus is 75-minutes of heavy and unforgiving music. It’s too long. “Sovereign Self,” for example, is ten-minutes of gradually building fury that loses momentum. Tempo-shifts, pinch-harmonics and out-of-tune licks merge to form a writhing, headache inducing track which – though powerful – lingers for too long. Thou have a tendency to repeat motifs and ideas to the point of tedium, which is a real shame. My issue with Heathen is my issue with Magus: overindulgence. Thou are an immensely talented band with an enticing concept and a drive to explore all musical territories. However, the band need to trim their sound. Their third record Summit succeeded because it was potent, immersive, atmospheric and succinct: 41-minutes of tightly-weaved music that still remained punishing and vast. Magus also seems to lack the emotional peaks of Heathen, instead dwelling in angrier, more alienated territories that fail to reach the cathartic heights of previous releases. Still, compared to other similar bands of this style, Magus is very good.