Thou has never been a band to rest on their laurels. The NOLA sludge quintet, while only on their fourth full length with Heathen, have amassed a collection of over 20 splits, 7inches, collaborations, you name it. While sheer quantity is irrelevant in a world where free music is a website away, the fact is, every single damn song they've ever written sounds like it could be their equivalent of a single; there are no b-sides in their catalog. However, as most fans of the band would agree, Thou truly shines on their full lengths. Their last such effort, Summit, varied the genre standard of slower than molasses and heavier than a ton of bricks riffing, supplemented by someone yelling a lot, with an airy sense of melody. Heathen finds Thou adding even more melody, but don't be fooled, this does nothing to detract from just how ridiculously heavy Heathen is.

From the opening moments of Free Will, it's clear Thou is traveling into new territory. The nearly ambient intro slowly builds with drums, and then comes infull blast with Brian Funck's pained black metal shrieks, dragged along by pummeling, slow riffs. While the song plods along at a glacier's pace, it doesn't fall into the trap that many sludge songs do. They actually play more than 2 riffs a song. Despite the length of this, and many of the tracks on the album, Thou manages to keep things moving, albeit at 30bpm, by not giving way to pointless drone parts, or writing riffs that sound like filler. Thou is constantly in your face, tearing it right the fuck off. Their songs tend to be long, and have a lot of parts, but the underlying aggression of every part makes this the furthest thing from background music.

The second track, Dawn, is an interlude, the first of three on the album. In these interludes, Thou explores soundscapes, acoustic guitars, and shows hints of a post rock influence. This is not a new thing for Thou (as we saw on songs like Acceptance, from an EP at the beginning of their career), however this is the first time such exploration has been so noticeable. Where Thou normally hinted at parts like this in the past, Heathen gives them room to breathe, and occupy a large chunk of the album.

Feral Faun is the next track, and may in fact be my favorite song thus far this year. Like Free Will, it starts off with a lengthy build, and gives way to an all out aural assault quickly. Again, the vocals come right in as the song "hits", so you're not hanging around waiting too long for the song to start. At about four and a half minutes in, the guitars ring out, the drums slow down, and the most desperate sounding piece of music I've heard in a long time is in full swing.

I could continue going track by track, but bluntly, the format is kind of the same. This isn't a bad thing at all though. I love Thou for their consistency. They remind me of bands like Insomnium and Neurosis, in that you know exactly what you're getting, but they do it perfectly. While the melodic parts are a bit more frequent and "prettier" on Heathen than they have in the past, there are no clean sung choruses (hell, no clean sung anything really except for female vocals on the end of Immortality Dictates) to be found here. Thou is content to allow the guitars to add all the melody. The instrumentation on the album sounds very full. You can hear every note in cleaner parts, and the heavy riffs are bone shaking. The bass is present, and while there doesn't seem to be much in the way of fretboard acrobatics, it fills out the sound perfectly. The drums sound huge, but when songs mellow out a bit, they scale back, and have an almost hypnotic effect. From the second I first heard this album at the beginning of the year, I decided it would most likely be my favorite. Nothing has come out since to change my mind. The only hangup I can see anyone who is a fan of heavy music having with Heathen is that the songs are LONG. The shortest actual track is almost 6 minutes. While the songs are engaging enough to keep me very interested, this may not be the case for everyone.

Thou has always been a band who marries their music to their ethics. Their lyrics may turn people off who don't want to read strongly opinionated political and social commentary. Me personally, I'm a Jew who really enjoys Burzum, so I can look past any of Thou's lyrical themes I disagree with and at least appreciate that they've put thought into them, and actually want to say something. And frankly, you probably can't understand most of the vocals anyway. In keeping with their self proclaimed DIY ethics, they give away all of their releases for free digital download on their bandcamp, which I've linked below.

TLDR: Thou rules, and their new album is quite possibly their best. They haven't reinvented the wheel from Summit, or any of their albums really, but god damn, that wheel rolls.