Thou Does Not Give a Flying Fuck About Your Wallet
Since May of this year, Thou has graced us with three new releases. And they’re not done yet. Some time earlier in 2018 — I don’t quite remember when, before May I guess — we were warned that Thou had a “grunge” album coming down the pipes. Strange news for anyone familiar with Thou’s signature brand of oft-atmospheric, always scathing sludge; though maybe not so strange for anyone who’s been digging Thou’s numerous covers of Nirvana. What I don’t recall being warned about is that the band planned to drop three “EPs” leading up to this new full-length opus of Thouian grunge. I don’t follow the news in any timely, linear fashion, so this one is definitely on me.
Imagine my confusion when The House Primordial arrived with nary a lick of grunge to be heard. (Also: 10 songs, not an EP). I won’t waste a lot of time on this one. This is Thou doing what Thou does most and, in my never-humble opinion, worst: straight-shooting, no-frills sludge, as pissed off and bedraggled as a young boy dragging an elk carcass through a bog with a bed of nails at the bottom. I say that Thou does this most because they have released 923857 EPs or singles or splits in this style; and I say this is what Thou does worst because all of their full-length albums bring way more to the table in terms of scope, depth, and atmosphere. So, The House Primordial is a string of by-the-numbers scorchers and instrumental cacophonies whose only distinct characteristic is that the production is more blown-out than usual.
Imagine my deepening confusion when a second EP, Inconsolable, materialized a mere two days later (seemingly without warning; I still had not checked the Metal News). Next, imagine my spleen when this one — a proper EP — was somehow even further from grunge than The House Primordial. Ever since the massive and magnificent Heathen came out in 2014, with its healthy dose of acoustic and ambient interludes, I’ve been wondering what it might sound like if Thou dialed way back on the sludge and cranked up all the ancillary textures that have been steadily leaking into their sound. Inconsolable is the answer to that question — and, luckily, so much more. Not only does it scoop out all of the sludge guts of the classic Thou style; it replaces them with a bunch of new guts so that we’re not just left with gristle and bones.
At root it is an acoustic folk album, devoid of distortion and retched vocals and abused drum heads. The vocals are all clean, most (I think?) performed by Emily McWilliams, who had previously added something very special and needed to “Immortality Dictates” on Heathen. Some rather striking male vocals appear as well, in duet with the others or one their own. I say “striking” because, as in standout track “Fallow State”, they croon with a weary frailty that seems like the polar opposite of everything Thou has ever stood for — that is, until you remember that making it through the entirety of Peasant or Tyrant or Summit left you with nothing but weariness in your flesh and frailty in your bones.
The vocal curveball can’t help but steal the show, but don’t let that distract you from the emotive guitar work, the gloomy strings, or the sparse percussion that begs never to be noticed. Inconsolable, an apt title if ever there was one, evokes gray skies frowning over wilting rural civilizations where nature’s verdant promiscuity has taken primacy once again. It is also a concentration of some of Thou’s best work. BUT IT DOESN’T EVEN SOUND LIKE THOU, you’ll cry. Well, if you think about it, it kind of does: The guitars, while never heavy, are familiar whispers of the riffs that define albums like Summit and Heathen; the lyrics, though not delivered by Bryan Funck’s hell-throat, are recognizably his, lush with his anthemic themes and obsessive repetitions. So, basically, quit yer whining and fail to be consoled!
This brings us to July’s Rhea Sylvia EP and — at long fucking last — the “grunge”. Quotation marks are necessary here because, really, the only connection to “grunge” to be found on Rhea Sylvia is in “Deepest Sun”, which bears an astonishing resemblance to Alice In Chains, who’s blend of rock and metal was only deemed “grunge” in the first place for geographical reasons.
Otherwise, Rhea Sylvia showcases Thou at their best, injecting sludge with half a syringe of space and a full syringe of huge emotions. In heavier moments, drums and bass quake deep beneath white squalls of guitar and the blood-curdling snarls of Bryan Funck, whose vocal chords have amazingly not blown out yet. In moments of quiet, Funck continues to snarl unhindered against tense arpeggios and the odd soothing drone.
Bonus: the song-lengths have been cut in half, eliminating that ever so slight tendency to drag that hampered some of Thou’s earlier epics. What it all boils down to is a freshness and accessibility that does not sacrifice one iota of aesthetic integrity. I don’t know how they’ve avoided running out of inspiration after ALL THESE RELEASES. Have they saved some for Magus, the full-length album due out later this month? And will Magus finally bring the grunge? I almost hope it doesn’t — because more of the night and day interplay between the restrained Inconsolable and the gushing Rhea Sylvia would be just fine by me.