Mystique is a huge part of what draws us to musicians and to bands. Cultivating that mystique is a fine art which affords bands no clear paths forward; like being cool, some bands just have it and others just don’t and it’s not clear exactly why or what actions make or break the allure of bands. What’s safe to say is that Thou have carefully cultivated such an air of artistic passion, occult obfuscation and DIY dedication over the years. Their move in 2018 to publish not one, not two, not three but four albums has certainly amplified that sort of image; Thou stand as one of the most interesting and engaging bands in the spaces of doom, sludge, and the blackened varieties thereof. But, when all of that aesthetic is discarded, what are we left with when we approach Magus, what most consider their main offering for 2018? How does a full length Thou album sound like on the backs of the three inherently different EPs which came before it?
Where the EPs presented variations on the Thou theme, tapping into some of their influences and the ideas nascent in their music, Magus is the stitching back together of those influences into what can be called the “core” Thou sound. Like Heathen which came before it, it’s a heavy and slow moving rumble of an album whose preferred adjective is “crushing”. One only needs to listen to the opening track, “Inward”, to be reminded of what Thou are known for; the chords are massive and luminously hanging, like the Sword of Damocles but weighing a few several tones more. The vocals are their abrasive self, echoing out from the inner depths of the mix and all across the fuzz and feedback of the rest of the instruments.
But more melody can be heard on this track than in previous work, influences sipping in from Rhea Sylvia perhaps, their more grunge focused EP from this year. There are faint hints of it on “Inward”, in the form of chromatic strums of the guitar where in previous work only static would live. Elsewhere on the album, like “Divine Will”, these influences are even more prominent. The clean vocals which open this tracks, as well as plenty of the guitar ideas contained in its middle and near its end, draw much clearer waters from the expanse of influences and ideas that Thou have laid bare before us during this year. When listening to the EPs released in preparation of Magus and then to the album itself, the intent and direction of Thou’s publication becomes clear.
However, there’s also a price to be paid for these vectors and timelines. The more blackened sides of Thou’s sound have been more or less abandoned in favor of the contemplation and depth of Magus. You won’t find the fury and dynamic power of a “Feral Faun” or “Into the Marshlands” from Heathen, the slightly faster tempo of those tracks and the changes it made to that album’s sound and structure. If Heathen contained plenty of contemplation and melancholia but tinged it with a lot of unbridled force and momentum, then Magus is a deep dive into those murky waters and their corrosive grasp, a slower album that speaks a dialect of Thou’s discography that’s made whole by the EPs that came before it.
Is that the Thou you like? What part of this band’s sound most appeals to you? At the end of the day, this is complex and unyielding music. Which is to say, it’s Thou. Like with all of their releases, you’ll need to decide what you take away from it and how you approach this release. For those of you that prefer Thou slightly faster and more dynamic, Magus might disappoint. But for those who crave the sheerest cliffs of nihilism, morbid introspection and the artistic commitment that has always been an undeniable part of this band’s allure, then Magus is definitely the album for you. Regardless, it makes sense; it fits incredibly well with the direction that Thou has set for themselves in 2018 and beyond and that’s a quality we can all admire.
Magus sees release on August 31st via Sacred Bones Records. Head on over to the Bandcamp link above to pre-order and while you’re there, do yourselves a favor and listen to the EPs also released by Thou this year; they’re a ride if nothing else.