It’s been a long time coming, but Thou have finally seen fit to awaken from their slumber and crush us with a new full-length record. Heathen (Gilead Media) is indeed, crushing. At 74 minutes in length, one might fear that it would get monotonous, or that it might drag. On the contrary, Heathen is varied and compelling for the entire runtime, and arguably the length of the record adds to the overwhelming power of the album.
Album opener, ‘Free Will’ is the longest song on the album, and the best (which is no easy judgement to make on a record of such quality). This might be the quintessential Thou song. A combination of feedback, chunky riffs, pounding drums and tortured vocals create an unnervingly heavy start to the album. But eventually, a melody bursts forth and it’s almost triumphant, accompanied by vocals that sound more empowering than they do tortured. It sounds like one of those moments where, if this were a hardcore show, people would be climbing over each other to grab the mic for themselves. Melody doesn’t mean that Thou have gone soft though, the riffs here are as weighty as ever.
One of the most impressive things about Heathen is that on the whole, the longest songs are the best. The longer song lengths and longer album length mean that Heathen sounds very organic, as Thou move seamlessly from one idea or riff to the next. The progressions all feel very natural, but changes in pace keep the listener guessing. ‘Into the Marshlands’ is a particularly good example of this. The album is also peppered with interludes, such as the wonderfully titled ‘Take Off Your Skin and Dance in Your Bones’, allowing the listener some time to breathe in amongst what is otherwise a fairly relentless album. Whilst it is undeniably dynamic, it isn’t exactly an easy listen, making the interludes very welcome, like shelter from a storm. Another album highlight would be ‘At the Foot of Mount Driskill’, which initially sounds almost like a funeral doom song. Whereas the melody on ‘Free Will’ sounded triumphant, the melody here is absolutely heartbreaking. As the melody gives way to a life-ending chug, accompanied by howls of “WE ARE NOTHING”, it is impossible not to feel an emotional connection to the music. Dauntingly long albums can sometimes lose their impact, alienating the listener (Swans‘ otherwise excellent The Seer comes to mind), but this certainly isn’t a problem with Heathen.
It might be a lot to take in on a first listen, but it is totally worth your time. This is an album that gets more rewarding every time. There is a lot of detail to explore in the music as well as the lyrics, which seem to be philosophically minded. Heathen sounds like a storm manifest as a piece of music, as devastating as it is awe-inspiring. Whatever you do, don’t sleep on this.
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