THOU’S SUMMIT: A GORGEOUS, HORRIBLE WORLD AWAITS YOU
Thou’s third full length, Summit, starts out in the last possible way one would think it would: when the drums kick in after about thirty seconds of a lonely arpeggio, they’re blastbeats. The strangest part isn’t so much their presence, but the way they absolutely fit in, shaping thunderous droning chords into something immensely palatable. This theme follows for the rest of the song (“By Endurance We Conquer”) and the album itself. Even when Thou get almost impenetrably slow, there’s some meat there, be it in the form of an evocative riff, vocalist Bryan Funck’s dragged-slowly-across-the-coals vocals, or simply what would be for most bands a beautiful moment stretched to its logical breaking point, making for an incredibly unpleasant result. Bad doom metal makes you wonder if there’s a greater purpose or if it’s just a bunch of unwashed dudes standing in front of their amps, stonedly laughing at the rumbling gently shaking the room; Thou avert this masterfully. They test you over the course of Summit, but there’s always something there.
On the surface, the record is decent sludge doom. Beneath it, it’s a journey dedicated to finding the beauty in horror and the horror in beauty. The album’s most nauseating moments are based around re-appropriated Cure chords, and it’s most beautiful moments — usually taking place on instruments that aren’t electric guitar, bass, or drums — are full of a sad, subtle hideousness. Nothing is what it seems, but simultaneously, nothing’s out of place.
Granted, none of it is particularly inviting: only three songs on the album are under ten minutes, and one of those is a 2 ½ minute instrumental track. Everything is covered in a thick layer of bloody mud, impossible to see down to the agreeable elements at its core. But only about half the riffs on Summit are revolting sludge-doom; the other are strangely melancholic — beautiful, but presented in such a way where they’re hard to take. The last 3 ½ minutes of “Prometheus” resembles Neurosis’ charred-Earth soul, and the opening riff to “Another World is Inevitable” sounds like a melodic European doom band on Quaaludes. But even that song closes with a mid-tempo unveiling of jagged chords, with Funck screaming over everything. The dichotomy between beauty and ugliness plays an integral role on Summit, but whereas metalcore bands would isolate the two for some good cop/ bad cop interplay, the band let them contaminate each other with dense, profound, and brilliant results. Even despite the more experimental elements — the brass on “Summit Revisited,” the acoustic close to the album, the way it slows down to an off-the-metronome slow drone-doom beat every now and again — the record never feels like an experiment, but, instead, precisely what Thou wanted to happen.
Granted, fifty-one minutes of funereally dissonant processions can be a bit much, and Summit is definitely one that requires the proper mood to enjoy. But when given time, it grows into you. By the time “Voices of the Wilderness” begins slowly unfurling its triumphant Southern riff, the screaming guitars that appear over it make complete sense. When the album itself closes with nothing but an acoustic guitar, piano, and humming, it doesn’t seem out of place despite the fact that it’s the first time on the record where that happens. While not for the lighthearted, Summit doggedly speaks in its own language, and if you pick it up, it has a strange world to offer. While already doing in three years what many bands can’t pull off in a lifetime, Thou manage to impress with staggering depth, hinting heavily that they may just be getting started. There will be more to come (Seriously. The band’s website says they’ll have a rough mix of Summit with them on their upcoming tour with official versions out later in the summer, with an EP and two splits also forthcoming), and we’ll all be waiting. While tough to get into, Thou’s affection is hard-won, guaranteeing the best payoff possible.
(4 out of 5 horns)