The Horns Up Top 10: Thou


For this week’s Top 10, we’re looking back on New Orleans sludge/doom band Thou, who formed there in 2005 and have been releasing all manner of splits, EPs and full-length records ever since. Digging through the band’s extensive back catalog has been extremely rewarding, since I tend to like each new song I hear more than the last. The band can do anything within their distinctive sound, from covers of well-known songs to epically orchestrated pieces that build and climax. The band’s entire catalog is free online, with most of their major releases on their Bandcamp page, so go ahead and listen along while you read.

“Immorality Dictates” (from Heathen, 2014)

Let’s start off this playlist with a song from one of Thou’s best records, Heathen, where they expanded their sound into an even more epic form of doom metal. “Immorality Dictates” is bookmarked by acoustic section with clean vocals from guest Emily McWilliams, who was also responsible for all the string and horn arrangements on the album.

“Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean” (from Tyrant, 2007)

On their debut full-length, Thou already had their formula nailed down. Dirty sludge, a bit of atmospherics, lyrics about nature and destruction, moments where everything slows way down and the band pounds out whatever they need to say. Tyrant also includes some impressive guitar work, including a melodic section just past the halfway point right before song drops into an absolute crawl. Over the final verses of this song, another not-as-downtuned guitar serves as a gorgeous counterpoint to the doom.

“4th of July” (from Kowloon Walled City/Thou split, 2012)

I only wanted to choose one cover for this Top 10 list, since I wanted to focus on Thou’s original writing. It was a difficult choice to make, since the band has recorded so many great covers, including songs from Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and Black Sabbath. I went with this Soundgarden cover off the band’s split 7” with Kowloon Walled City. I think the fact that I don’t listen to Soundgarden at all (sorry, I was born in 1991) speaks to the strength of this cover. It’s a slight departure from Thou’s usual formula, since it includes clean vocals on top of the band’s typical rumble. Bryan Funck does start growling over the top of them for an amazing contrast and to mark this song as distinctively Thou. “4th of July” proves that Thou can do great things with melody while keeping their sound functionally the same.

 “View of a Burning City” (from Big City, 2011)

Another cautionary tale from Thou about the end of the world: “Hail, our corporate overlords / Hail, self-destructive greed.” Thou are great at making songs sound as huge and dramatic as the world falling apart and rotting, then including a Fugazi-like warning about the dangers of consumerism.

“Beyond the Realms of Dream, That Fleeting Shade Under the Corpus of Vanity” (from Released from Love/You, Whom I Have Always Hated, 2015)

Thou have now done two collaborative releases with their friends and tour-mates The Body, an experimental doom metal band from Portland, Oregon. From the rolling drums of this song’s introduction to the tortured screams and distorted electronics of the middle, The Body give Thou an even darker and noisier dimension. [My full review of this album can be found here.]

“Ordinary People” (from Resurrection Bay, 2012)

So….yeah, Thou make a ton of split 7” records. This one was done with fellow doom metal band Oregon’s Hell. The faster section in the middle of this song shows that the band isn’t afraid to change up their sound every once in awhile.

“Prometheus” (from Summit, 2010)

By the time Thou released their third album, Summit, they’d really started to get a grasp on the whole epic doom metal thing. On a track that reminds me a bit of Inter Arma, repeating guitar lines in the middle section slip into melodic riffs that give way again to soaring guitars that convey the song’s themes of despair and surrender.

“Burning Black Coals and Dark Memories” (from Peasant, 2008)

Thou is good at conveying the emotions one might feel watching the world fall to pieces. They aren’t usually highly literal, but damn if the guitars in the middle of this song don’t sound like a storm the band has summoned themselves from the sky right at the moment Funck sings, “I must call to the thunder to break these bonds.” We know that if the band was ever trapped somewhere, they’d probably be able to break their way out by playing loud enough to turn the building into rubble.

“Helen Hill Will Have Her Revenge on New Orleans” (from To The Chaos Wizard Youth EP, 2011)

Helen Hill was a New Orleans activist and filmmaker whose seemingly random murder in the upheaval following Hurricane Katrina inspired citizens to march against violence in the city. Thou often show off their social and political side in their lyrics, framing their arguments in terms of nature versus society, moving toward an apocalyptic future. The anger and destruction is palpable in this song through extremely straightforward riffs weighed down by Mitch Wells’ bass. And the band sings, “This is systemic violence, and we are all guilty / Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets / She’ll come back as fire and burn all the liars / leave a blanket of ash on the ground.”

“Into the Marshlands” (from Heathen, 2014)

This is the song that really hooked me on Heathen. It’s split into two basic parts: a mournful section, where Funck’s voice echoes and shapes itself into its best imitation of a croon about civilization collapsing in on itself; and the all-out onslaught of the final two minutes of the song where the riff from early is broken down almost completely into a driving rhythm. The lyrics of this song are also possibly the best argument made in song form for abandoning modern life and returning to nature’s womb. Let’s run away to the forest together.

The Horns Up Top 10 on YouTube


Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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