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Thoakland - 75%

PhilosophicalFrog, September 4th, 2014

The recent explosion of sludgy/blackened/death/drone/doom bands has been quite baffling, especially for a sound that seems to be inherently limiting due to the specifics of the genre. But perhaps this limitation isn't all a bad thing. Much like the burgeoning black metal scene in the early 90s, this new-but-kinda-self-referential genre seems to allow the best at the game to rise to prominence and force newcomers to experiment only minimally with the formula; the results based more on riffs and noise rather than trying to find new sounds altogether. This would be bands like Lord Mantis or Indian, who seamlessly blend crushing sludge riffs with very hash noise sections, giving the albums a hyperviolent feel to it, even if the mechanics are superficial. But, a band like Thou manages to be violent and intense without blurry noise passages and needless feedback loops.

Nope, what you have here is simple, straightforward, sludge. Each song found on Oakland Singles more or less sounds like the song before it, with little variation in between. Indeed, much like the late Pete Steele's manly parts, what lies betwixt Thou's legwork is meaty, heavy, long and goes deep. Each song pummels you with each guitar stroke, leaving one's musical cervix a bit worse for wear after the encounter. Songs like "Rats and Mice and Swarms of Lice", and "Smoke Pigs" (my favorite Thou song of all time) blend hardcore and stoner riffing with excellent pacing and variation to leave even the most promiscuous of doom listeners sore in all the right places.

Even more so like Mr. Steele's wobbly bits, one is pleasantly surprised with the curves one finds. "Their Hooves Carve Craters in the Earth" starts off with a melodic moment more reminiscent of gothic metal than sludge before quickly moving into a discordant nightmare of a song, lurching slowly forward, resembling its title, stomping and grinding bones to dust in an almost atonal wake, resembling the angry baby of post-hardcore and death metal. Then there's "Here I stand Head in Hand" which intertwines the closest thing to a "clean guitar" sound that Thou has (a foreshadowing on the moments on Heathen), before hurling mammoth doom/death riffs towards the listener in a barrage of very memorable riffs that are all bordering on the melodic doom a la Esoteric or Ahab.

Couple that curve with the thickness, and you've got an album that hits all the right places. Of course, with anything of this nature, there's bound to be those who think it's too much, and will come away a groaning rather than moaning, but for the seasoned, it's exactly the right length. Honestly, these singles are probably Thou at its tightest, most compact - without the context and grand concepts of their albums. If you want to know what this genre was doing before the giant boom of the last few years, this is an excellent place to start - very solid indeed.