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Harshing My Mellow - 80%

general tso witchcraft, June 3rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Robotic Empire

According to their Bandcamp, this is the first in a series of EPs leading up to their next full length, Magus. And after first listen, it makes sense. This EP reads as the band working through a series of production experiments and techniques. It is notable as much for what it isn’t than what it is. Here, Thou’s undercurrent of post-rock melodicism is vaporized to reveal a sound that is entirely raw and very, very angry.

The album’s tracklist follows an ABAB pattern, with tracks alternating one after another between tense, atmospheric experiments and tight, classic Thou-style metal. Each track leads into the next, so the album plays out as a single piece.

The musical pieces loop and drone single ideas into structureless movements of anxiety. The most notable is Birthright, which blurs the line between guitar buzz and a choir sustaining one shaky note. The result is an uncanny blend of beauty and existential dread, like a composition by Georgi Ligeti.

The tracks are also unified by the style of production. Demo-chic drums smack up front in the mix throughout like your roommate rehearsing down the hall. And in their effort to stay competitive in the guitar tone arms race, Thou here process their axes thoroughly with harsh noise. This recalls the synthetic vitriol of their collaborators The Body. On vocal tracks, Bryan Funck does not stray from his signature proselytizing lyrical delivery, and his voice is given the same intimidating treatment as the guitars. On Premonition, Funck channels Khanate-era Alan Durbin with an accusatory snarl, and on the stunning album closer Malignant Horror, he repeatedly screams a despairing mantra, his voice so thick with noise that it blends in with the nearly industrial onslaught of the band.

The three scheduled EPs (this along with the upcoming Inconsolable, which will feature acoustic performances, and Rhea Sylvia, which will explore grunge) serve to build a buzz leading up to the next album. For Thou fans, the most exciting aspect of this recording will be the decidedly harsh tone. On Thou’s Obama-era album, Heathen, Funck led imaginary red armies with lines like “We are the stone that starts the avalanche.” Likewise, they infused a sense of wonder into their music throughout with aching orchestral passages. But here, Thou recedes from the triumphal procession for a sound that looks inward, hammering out ten terse tracks that are focused in their claustrophobia. It will be interesting to see if and how many of these ideas make their way into Magus, or if this EP served as a singular outlet for this aggressive sound.