For Fans Of
You know all those stereotypes that say that universities turn the youths into a bunch of left-wing, government-hating commies? Well, that’s partially true. Yet I’ve only started fantasizing about burning all of this to the ground recently, and that was less about university indoctrination and more because I got a parking ticket outside my own fuckin’ apartment. But no matter how milquetoast and insufferably white my own politics are, bands like Thou, with their DIY anarcho-punk ethos, will always make me feel like destroying government property before living life in a van. This particular American band is just so fucking angry all of the fucking time and I truly dig the shit out of that approach. However, as much as I was looking forward to their newest album, ‘Magus‘, I’m sorta disappointed with how it all turned out.
I think part of this stems from their anarcho-punk mentality, and because they’re so prolific, that results in their music lacking a lot of thought and variety. See, the main reason I was looking forward to this album is that Thou released not one, not two, but three EPs this goddamn year alone in the lead-up. Those EP’s being ‘The House Primordial‘, ‘Inconsolable‘, and ‘Rhea Sylvia‘. Each of these three releases contained a very different sound. ‘The House Primordial‘ consists of noisy drone tracks that sound like they were recorded in a microwave; ‘Inconsolable‘ sounds like the band recording some of their Alice In Chains covers that I’ve liked so much over the years, even with a lot of the clean vocals; and ‘Rhea Sylvia‘ folds both of these styles with Thou’s classic droning sludge metal and the result is great – like folding blueberries into some scrum-diddly-umptious pancake batter. Now, given that varied of a build-up, I went into this album expecting a new direction from the band that most other fans would probably damn-well hate yet one that I would love. (Kinda like what happened with the last Altar of Plagues album). But after having listened to ‘Magus‘, Thou’s first official full-length in four years, I feel a little tricked.
The music on Magus is pretty much all the same, which I wouldn’t mind if there wasn’t so much of it. The album is an exhaustive 75-minute slog. The vast majority of that time is just spent ruminating on intense, crushing, slow-to-mid-paced riffs and tempos that fans of Thou have heard countless times before. And… that’s about it. There are some small variations here and there, like the softer interlude tracks of ‘My Brother Caliban‘, ‘Divine Will‘, and ‘The Law Which Compels‘. There’s also a guitar solo, by Jove, in the late-album track ‘Elimination Rhetoric‘ – a song name that’s cool as hell by the way. Even if Thou’s harsh vocal styles do leave me totally clueless as to what these songs are actually about.
Speaking of that, though, ‘Transcending Dualities‘ was rather interesting. Not the music – that’s pretty boring – but the lyrics are intriguing. Well, those that I understood, anyway. There’s a line in this particular song that (if heard correctly) is about sexuality not being a transgression. Couple that with the song’s name, and I think the track is about the dreaded postmodernism; that great big dirty boogieman that hides under Jordan Peterson’s bed. From what I personally gathered, the song is about sexuality not conveniently fitting into certain categories, and how that’s not a problem of the person; that’s a problem of the categories or the dualities (gay, straight, etc.) and their inability to accurately portray reality. I really fucking like that, as I’ve been thinking about such topics for a long while now, as have people who are much, much smarter than me. And I wish the band delved more into these kinds of specific social issues, like what Parquet Courts did on their most recent record, ‘Wide Awake‘.
Besides all my complaining, and if it wasn’t so needlessly long, I honestly feel that there’s a very good album here. 2010’s ‘Summit‘, universally considered to be the band’s greatest work, only has five tracks and clocks in at 40-minutes long when you exclude the bonus tracks. Sure, most of those songs are about as long as the tracks right here on ‘Magus‘ – around 8-10 minutes – but those tunes were jam-packed with atmosphere, variation, and changing tempos that kept you so deeply interested. If Thou got rid of most of the songs on ‘Magus‘ and left, say half-a-dozen, and packed them with the material from the scrapped work, this would’ve probably been a far greater album.
So, as of the time of this review, I’ve listened to ‘Magus‘ about five times now. And I think any album definitely has a problem when everything I’ve stated above is all one can recall from their time with said record. This might be because I’m a dirty millennial with the attention span of a dying goldfish, but I don’t buy that. In my head, I know that out of all the songs on ‘Magus‘, I liked ‘Inward‘, ‘The Changeling Prince‘, ‘In the Kingdom of Meaning‘, and ‘Elimination Rhetoric‘ the most. But I’ll be fucked if I can adequately explain why that is. It’s like describing why you don’t like certain foods. I don’t like onions because they’re shit. Can I explain why? I just said why – it’s because they’re shit.
In my best impression of that unbearable Game Theory guy, this all got me thinking: does music have to be memorable in order to be good? This album isn’t memorable in the slightest, but I definitely enjoyed my listening experience of it. I listened to it on my run the other morning and I thought of punching everyone walking past me and keying cars that looked like they were worth more than my cost of living for five years – it was a pretty good time. But after not listening to it for a whopping two hours I can barely describe a single thing about it. Does this make Thou’s latest good or bad? I honestly don’t know. I’ve only recently gotten into the Polish black metal enigmas, Batushka, and while their music isn’t catchy, they’re so different from the norm that their art is super memorable. I think that ‘Magus‘ would’ve stuck harder to the wall and been more impactful had it experimented more and tried to bust free from the norm, like on the band’s preceding three 2018 EPs.
This is my second least favourite Thou album, mostly because it’s less self-indulgent than ‘Heathen’. (Thank god these guys have the sense not to run the time up to 18-minutes on any of these tracks). Like that New Waters album I reviewed a while back, this album is a lot of fun while I’m listening to it, but honestly, I’m probably never going to listen to it again after this review is done. There’s a really good 40-minute album buried in here somewhere, but I don’t think Thou’s super-prolific mindset will let that sort of thing emerge again any time soon.
2. My Brother Caliban
3. Transcending Dualities
4. The Changeling Prince
5. Sovereign Self
6. Divine Will
7. In the Kingdom of Meaning
8. Greater Invocation of Disgust
9. Elimination Rhetoric
10. The Law Which Compels
‘Magus’ is out August 31st.