by Van Damned (TX)
Thou's Summit, (Gilead Media/Southern Lord) was one of my favorite albums of 2010. It was black, oily and rotten and anchored in hate and bile. Yet it was buoyed by moments of floating beauty and effortless grace. It was, as I said then, the sonic equivalent of the Gulf Oil Spill -- massive, profound and tragic.
It was those moments of melody and color -- the horns and strings; the voices and pauses -- that elevated Summit from being more than a trudge through swamp death and gloom into a truly sublime listening experience.
Flash-forward to 2011. A new year means new material from the hyper-prolific Thou and first out of the gate is To the Chaos Wizard Youth (Vendetta). I'm always interested to hear what the boys from Baton Rouge have in their stew pot and after the acme reached with Summit, I was doubly so.
From the label's info blurb: "(To the Chaos Wizard Youth) was meant to be counter-side to the songs on the Summit LP: little-to-no melody, more straightforward and succinct." And that certainly shows. Crushing and merciless, Youth is a 25-minute slog through the earthy depths of Thou's back catalog. New drummer Josh Nee is appropriately monolithic and vocalist Bryan Funck again delivers with four mini-sagas of despair, vengeance and catharsis.
The precedent for this kind of unapologetic sludge is certainly there -- 2008's Baton Rouge, You Have Much To Answer For stands among Paso Inferior, …and Justice for Y'all and Take as Needed for Pain as standouts of the genre -- but compared to the sweetly (yeah, I said it) moving sensibilities of Summit, the tracks just kind of charge forward; crushing, rather than creating.
It's not without its own bright spots, however. The industrial grind of "Skinwalker" and the drum break on "Helen Hill Will Have Her Revenge on New Orleans" are particularly compelling examples of Thou's superlative ear for tension and drama.
I hope Summit wasn't the exception to the rule -- I'd like to see the counter-side to this one.
PS -- Start at 4:30 for a real treat: