Review Summary: The Only Law is Thou.
The story of Magus
is a story of pedigree and patience. Thou are the recipients of many unofficial titles, but perhaps “hardest workers” is the most apt. Baton Rouge’s sludge stalwarts have the sort of discography that seems impenetrable at first, a minefield of EPs, splits, demos, and compilations buried in the delightful muck of their comparatively few full length offerings. Magus
is, likewise, seemingly impenetrable on first listen to all but the most seasoned of doom and sludge fans, a rumbling mire of bass and distortion that spans many miles beyond the human eye. A few months ago I wrote some minor commentary in another review on the propensity of heavy metal to appear dense, yet not to be dense. That there was a nagging uncertainty in the back of my mind that artists prefered to paste together many different instruments and pieces in order to appear complicated and grandiose, while the result is decidedly straightforward once dissected. Thou are the antithesis to this, true depth and intelligence created through a union of intent and execution, instrument and idea. Never has it been more obvious that it’s the small things that make the difference.
There’s a lot buried in the history of Thou that makes Magus
what it is, but the most integral point is the idea of evolution. Thou have not actively progressed as artists so much as they naturally became what they now are. Perhaps there’s not as much of a difference there as I’m trying to convey, but the idea is that the former carries with it a sense of tense, demanding effort while the latter is a relaxed state in which the sheer consistency of Thou’s output has resulted in gradual change. There was less active intent and more of Thou just trucking on until they got to this point. There’s something beautiful in that, that you can achieve discernible growth without so blatantly chasing it. Most artists can’t do that, they jump from trend to trend or experiment too haphazardly or only allow the most minute of alterations to their tried and true formula. Thou are doing something perhaps no one thought of before; turning their craft into life, a life that’s had to experience the necessary growing pains, but has also listened, observed, and advanced eagerly.
As for the actual music on Magus
, it’s stellar. Time will tell if it can surpass the majesty of Heathen
in the annals of Thou’s history, but the choice to release a trio of experimental EPs (noise/drone, somber folk, and marginally grungy Thou, respectively) was an inspired choice in hindsight. Not only did it allow them to flex their muscles in totally new territory, but it also made the more prototypical Thou sound of Magus
far more refreshing than it might’ve been had it followed up Heathen
directly. That’s not to say that it’s a carbon copy; far from it, both for better and for worse. The best way to generally describe the differences between the two is that Heathen
was sharper tonally and built around contrast, bouncing gorgeous, clean guitar passages off violent riffs. Magus
still blends multiple sounds, but closer ones, melding oozing doom with noisy soundscapes and washy melodies that sink into their surroundings. “Inward” aptly sums up much of the standard that Thou offers here, the climbing chordal melodies blending with the walls of low end sound beneath them before shifting smoothly into earthquake rhythms.
There is variety here though, make no mistake. The very next track, “My Brother Caliban”, is a quirky minute long exercise in lo fi black metal, complete with literally zero bass. “Divine Will” offers a short dose of ritualistic drum work with some chanting vocals over the top, while “The Law Which Compels” is a pure noise interlude. Interludes like these can be divisive choices in the extreme metal spectrum, but Thou keep them at a minimum and distinct from each other whilst always ensuring they serve the larger purpose of transitioning the mood between the beefier tracks. “The Changeling Prince” was an effective choice as a single, eschewing length and scale for a concise and intimate focus on melody. Potentially, the most impressive cut is “In The Kingdom of Meaning” which slots in as a sort of album centerpiece by more than one definition. It covers a lot of territory, from a soft opening to tense buildups and obscenely heavy riffs, but the most memorable moment of the song (by extension, even the album) is Emily McWilliams’ guest vocals in the climax, which channel an aged invocation somewhere between earth and a higher plane of existence.
Patience is the most valuable virtue one can have when approaching Magus
in the end. At just around an hour and fifteen minutes and in consideration of the often abrasive sounds on display, it’s not an easy listen and there are a couple of cuts here that drag a tad (“Sovereign Self”, “Supremacy”). Patient, attentive listeners that take the time to find Magus’s
secrets will be justly rewarded, as there’s a lot to be dissected here. In nearly a thousand words (unusual for me), I feel inadequate trying to understand and explain Thou’s latest epic, but I think that’s normal. Just as Thou’s music often sounds like an ancient, decaying being, it is the archaeologists and scholars who are best equipped to attack it. The lowliest among us should be content to have something as mysterious, poignant, and rewarding as Baton Rouge’s finest have been pumping out for the last decade. The law which compels us to approach Thou again and again, I think, is curiosity.