To be a heathen is to stand outside of society, to take no part in its most cherished rituals and beliefs. It is more than just being outcast. The heathen actively denies and refuses to participate in the fundamental truths of society, the ideas and unwritten rules that make it possible. Thou are heathens. Where most metal bands speak from pain, Thou speak from revulsion, from an utter and deep-seated disgust of the fruits of society and man. Heathen is an unrelenting diatribe, a thesis on the failures of humanity itself to deal with its own frailties and short comings. Blending drone, post metal and sludge with impossible to abjure vocals, Heathen is vicious, corrosive and completely unapologetic. What finally hones its edge to a frigid sharpness is that it is also highly intelligent and emotional; the lyrics are masterful and the structure is flawless, utilizing touching melodies along the more abrasive components stated above to draw as much blood as possible from the listeners.
A track by track analysis of such an album would be pointless. This is a whole creation and one which repeatedly scoffs at attempts to understand and categorize. Nonetheless, three movements might be singled out as a limited guide to a potential listener. The first movement kicks off with ‘Free Will’, the monstrous first track to this album. Using some of the most evocative lyrics in the album, it is the raison d’etre of Thou, encapsulated and coated in filthy chords akin to bells: we are Thou and we are here to tear everything down. This first movement falls and rises through the next tracks, finally culminating in the nigh unapproachable ‘Into the Marshland’ a song that is all jagged spines and snarled barks. “Flee the dying fortress of civilization” this track commands us, closing the first part and the music beats in tune: the track is much faster, being the most black metal of tracks on the album.
The second movement begins with what is the peak of Heathen, ‘At the Foot of Mt. Driskill’. More melodic parts are introduced into the chaos but these do the opposite of soothe: they only set the stage for the bottomless sadness and disappointment that the second movement contains. Certainly, rage still exists but it is tempered by a shaking of the head, a turning away and a release into a fitful sleep. The music remains true and is resplendent in crushing, fuzzy chords, bottomless drums and all you would expect from a post metal creation. This poignancy escalates and is fulfilled in the melodic and heart wrenching ‘Take Off Your Skin and Dance in Your Bones’, the last part in this, our second movement.
The last part of Heathen is where Thou reach mastery of their art. Both ‘Immortality Dictates’, with its haunting feminine voice so powerful and ethereal, and ‘Ode to Physical Pain’, featuring the most powerful outro to an album in recent years, are true masterpieces of emotional manipulation. If the rest of the album is ponderous, they are glacial. If the rest of the album is pain, they are agony. If Heathen is a painting of being torn apart, they are the wounded ligaments and bleeding skin. The vocals continue their screeching, continue extolling the sins and flaws of their subject. But this time, their subject is us, every single human and their inevitable demise. When Heathen ends, heads drop to hands, eyes close for sleep and throats catch with sobs. It is both a prayer to and a summoning of our deepest fears: death and erosion.
Thou’s Heathen gets…