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Thou - "Magus" | Album Review


by Ryan Bollenbach (@SilentAsIAm)

From the very first notes of "Inward," Magus opener, the album's pace is set: a slowly unfurling melody is swallowed by chugging guitars and the singer's gurgling screams. From there, "Inward," like most of the songs on Thou's album, lumbers forward from grimy riff to grimy riff propelled by plodding, crash forward drum lines and room-swallowing bass. 

A finely chiseled sculpture this album is not. These songs avoid the metal-by-numbers feel of neatly-divided sections set off by telegraphed transitions. Rather, these songs move languidly from part to part via understated hinge points: a short lead riff ringing out once or twice; a change in the chugging rhythm and a slight decrease in tempo; a single melody picked on the acoustic guitar blending into pulsing distortion after only one measure by itself. The nuanced structures of these songs are served well by Magus' relatively even mix and breathy production. The power chords and distorted bass gurgle wildly, yet even the sparse leads, often played in the same register as the backing riffs, are clear and have their own sonic lane. 

In interviews, the band said they feel as close to punk or grunge as they do to metal. The no-frills instrumentation speaks to that influence. There are no guitar solos, no stampeding double bass, and the vocals are rarely seated above the instrumentals--rather these songs beat their intention into you through nuanced composition and repetition. One of the most successful examples of this approach is the outro of "Sovereign Self." A booming tom roll begins accenting the main drum line then gradually subsumes it over the course of a full minute. As the tom rhythm ramps up, a single held-out guitar note pings from left to right overtop the rest of the instrumentals leading the song to a sneakily epic crescendo. These patient additions are what makes the songs feel heavy, textured, and organic. The effect of this approach makes the songs feel like an amorphous creature in the room with you, surrounding you, swallowing the silence, creating a new, heavier ambience over top of you before you even realize how long it's been there.  

Bryan Funck's vocals add welcome texture and act as a through line from riff to riff. And when Funck's lyrics do stick out, they speak to the album's overall project. The repetition of pointed abstractions like “behind the mask another mask," the final line in "The Changeling Prince," or the varied motif of "Inward" depicting “bottomless well[s] of self-affirmation," bring to mind the fleetingness of self-gratification garnered through personas like the ones donned on social media. Delivered in such a clear and searing vocal package, Funck's lyrics ring like a rallying cry for the kind of attention and presence the album as a whole demands.

For its 67 minute length, this album seldom covers as much sonic distance as the other three EPs the band has released recently. That's not to say this album has no surprises. For instance, the beautiful singing that is quickly swallowed by distorted guitars in the beginning of "Sovereign Self,” to the brief almost guitar solo about halfway through “A Greater Invocation of Disgust,” or the electronic black metal sound of the short interlude "My Brother Caliban." For an album this long, I did wish those variations were longer or that the interludes were more massaged into the songs so they felt a bit less like capital "I" interludes. If the songs were played with less finesse, or the album didn't sound as gruesomely huge, this singular vision might feel stale. Instead, it makes the album a direct and demanding experience, which, for me, is one of metal's most gratifying traits.