ALBUM REVIEW: Thou reaches within on the magnificent ‘Magus’

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Thou, Magus

Doom metal quintet Thou has remained exceptionally industrious over the past 13 years, releasing more than 30 EPs, splits and collaborations between four full-lengths. The Baton Rouge anarchists incorporate Seattle grunge melody and a DIY punk ethos into traditional Louisiana sludge, steadily elaborating on its sardonic postmodern worldview.

This year has seen Thou delineate its components into three distinct EPs—The House Primordial’s noise, Inconsolable’s melancholy doom-folk and the grunge-inspired Rhea Sylvia. These short explorations set the stage for a 76-minute trial-by-feedback. Magus uses Thou’s crushing aura to search for meaning in a discordant and unjust world.

Thou clarifies the intent of Magus like a scholarly thesis: “This album is dedicated to the sacred ego, that wellspring of individuality and unique complexity.” In contrast to the anti-capitalist manifesto of 2008’s Peasant and the cosmic skepticism of 2014’s Heathen, the band now strives to orient itself in light of its anti-establishment diatribe.

Opening track “Inward” provides the perfect mission statement, with vocalist Bryan Funck comparing the act of self-examination to a descent into a “voidpit” in the hopes of finding purpose in seemingly universal chaos. Thou rises to this ambitious endeavor by taking its songwriting to the N-th degree.

“Inward” features eight destructive riffs, with guitarists Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium finding the perfect balance between suffocating low-end, violent dissonance and elegant melody. Magus’s expansive production allows it to strike like brass knuckles and resonate like a gong. This is especially evidenced by drummer Josh Nee and bassist Mitch Wells’ sluggish syncopation and grimy tone. Each monolithic song shows remarkable musicality in its heaviness, with smooth rhythm changes and nuanced sonic layers supporting every seismic chug.

The gorgeous classic doom harmonies and lumbering grooves of “The Changeling Prince” display the pristinely infectious heights Thou can reach. Ascending acoustic arpeggios and mighty distorted strains serve Funck’s observance of societal frailty through a lense of enlightenment. “As the short-sighted ne’er do wells proselytize in various degrees of mumbles and shouts, we laugh!” he sings. Similarly, “Transcending Dualities” casts off the shackles of orthodoxy in a rallying cry to Sleep-inspired stoner riffs and Crowbar’s beefiness. “Our gender is disorder/ Our sexuality is transience and transgression,” Funck shrieks in a fervent embrace of non-binary existence.

“My Brother Caliban,” “Divine Will” and “The Law Which Compels” throw some curveballs in the form of raw electronic black metal, a neo-folk female-lead choral piece and an ambient drone. But these three tracks take up fewer than six minutes of an album centered around slow-moving catharsis.

Although no less entrenched in doom metal’s slow-motion melancholy, Thou began developing its aesthetic far before the rise of mainstream doom metal. This painstaking forethought enters the spotlight on “Elimination Rhetoric” and “In the Kingdom of Meaning.” Both tracks produce a foreboding atmosphere, but where the former builds to a spellbinding guitar solo and a billion-dollar riff, the other implements propulsive tempo shifts and vocal melodies straight out of a Seattle sewer. Unified in lurching sullenness, Magus cuts no corners in neither its stupefying intensity nor its intelligent rhetoric.

Funck’s lyrics continuously dive into leftist sociopolitical and postmodern thought, but his fatal philosophizing may go unnoticed to those uninitiated to his incomprehensible rasps. Magus’s words remain just as essential as its sonics. Remaining true to Thou’s tradition of literary profundity, every cut gushes with beautiful wordplay.

The narratives of “Greater Invocation of Disgust” and “Sovereign Self” acknowledge the ugly side of the human psyche while remaining committed to self-improvement. The latter cut, in particular, encapsulates how introspection can lead to apathy, a threat that Thou wrestles as spine-chilling female vocalizations create overwhelming disharmony alongside Funck’s glass-gargling snarls.

Every leveling note  constitutes Thou’s war on ontological confines. The 11-minute closer, “Supremacy,” sees Thou cast its shackles into the “yawning chasm of naked thought” detailed in the opener. As mesmerizing as it is pulverizing, this final exorcise in detuned violence leaves listeners to ponder the terrifying freedom found epiphany: “We’ve defeated our mortality/ Defeated time/ Always alone/ Remain alone.”

It might end in a brain-melting wall of feedback, but this album’s beauty emerges from its earth-shaking sonics, not in spite of them. While certainly a formidable onslaught, Magus finds buoyancy in the depths of nihilism.

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