Friday, November 7, 2008

“Their Hooves Carve Craters in the Earth: THOU Preach the End Times”

“Their Hooves Carve Craters in the Earth: THOU Preach the End Times”
*to be published in Unrestrained! Magazine
Kim Kelly 2008

Walking into the hushed sanctuary of Philadelphia’s First Unitarian church, the first thing you notice are the rows of pews, filled with sleepy-eyed acolytes and soon-to-be-converts. Silence reigns and a dense aura of anticipation hangs over the congregation; expectations are high, and for many, the addition of an opening act serves only to prolong the inevitability of the main event. Framed by stained glass and wood panels, a motley band of youngsters slowly take the stage, coaxing their gear into cooperation and stealing glances heavenwards at the high, high ceiling. The crowd remains immobile – opening for drone gods Sunn 0))) is no simple task, and these concertgoers were not about to let these untested whippersnappers off that easily. The first chord is struck, the earth shakes, the wild-eyed singer clutches his microphone and…all hell breaks lose. A stream of Southern hellfire laced with enough fiery brimstone to satisfy any Baptist preacherman erupts from his pale white throat, and the murderous beast that is Thou awakens.

Formed from the ashes of members’ previous bands, Thou rose from the swamps of Baton Rouge, Lousiana several years ago. According to bassist Andy, “After about a year together, Bryan (who is from New Orleans) joined on vocals and we started picking up the pace. In the time he's been in the band we've gone on 4 US tours that have ranged from utterly amazing to utterly disheartening. I don't think we'd trade the experience for anything, though. We've done two full length LPs (also both on CD), one 12" EP, one ten-inch EP, 2 7"s, a split cassette, and a demo. And we've got a TON of splits on the way, two 12" EPs, and a few cassette releases, as well as another full-length sometime next year.” When questioned about the origin of the band’s name, Andy explained, “We wanted something simple and monolithic, and I think it accomplishes that goal. As it stands now with a lot of the lyrical themes we use, it's almost like an accusatory finger in the face of everything we despise. It embodies our despair at and contempt for society at large.”

That aching hopelessness and raging disdain manifest themselves quite noticeably in Thou’s latest aural assault. A rough-hewn collection of doomed riffs and bottomfeeding chord progressions, Peasant takes you on a painfully slow crawl through the deep, dirty sludge of a lonesome Dixie swamp and draws you down into the sort of black, primordial ooze that few men see and even fewer escape. Topped off by Bryan’s agonizing screams and a rumbling, unstoppable rhythm section, the album is an absolute behemoth. Peasant was released by Autopsy Kitchen Records, after the label contacted the band and rushed to get finished copies into their hands in time for their 2007 summer tour.

“We didn't plan this album out too much, so any cohesiveness is mostly a coincidence, with the exception of the lyrics, which Bryan strung together using some related themes that we were all into. Usually we're just in a certain mood when we're writing a batch of songs and they end up working well together. Matthew, Terry, and I usually just lock ourselves in the practice room all night until something comes out of it, then we bring it to Mitch and Bryan and work on refining the parts. Other times, like with "Burning Black Coals...," Matthew will have an entire song written and we'll just embellish certain parts.”

“Bryan and I are into the more political aspects of our lyrics which address everything from anarchist theory, feminism, and French criminalism to animal rights and the social politics of Baton Rouge. But on the whole, the lyrics tend to take on a dark, epic tone that I think complements the music well. We've addressed issues like police brutality, negative body-image issues, the dangers of organized religion, suicide, and the inevitable collapse of our industrialized society. We'll pretty much take on anything that someone in the band feels strongly about. At times, we can all have vastly different opinions on a subject, but the songs will generally revolve around one extremist position that we can all get behind or, at least, identify with on some level.”
“Peasant and (Thou’s first full-length) Tyrant were both recorded by our friends Brennan Moss and Michael Talley. Brennan used to be in bands with me and Matthew, and he's been my friend since 5th grade in addition to being one of the most talented and well-organized people I've ever known, so he was a natural choice. Talley is his partner in crime and did an incredible mixing job on both the albums. We recorded Tyrant in our old practice room in the dead of night and recorded Peasant above a bar in a one-bedroom apartment. Given our space limitations, I'd say it came out pretty well. Thrive and Decay, Malfeasance/Retribution, and We Pass Like Night were recorded by James Whitten, who is a long-time friend of Bryan's from New Orleans. He played in a lot of punk bands down here, used to put on shows, did a small recording studio out of his old apartment. He's a great sound engineer. He actually makes his living doing live sound with some bigger pop punk bands--A Wilhelm Scream and Zebrahead. We recorded with him in his apartment in Oakland last summer and on the west coast tour before that. (Come to think of it, all of our recording sessions involve us hauling our gear up flights of stairs.) James is super easy to work with though, a very laid back guy.”

A number of the aforementioned Thou releases are affixed to wax instead of cold, hard plastic, and for good reason, too; the warm, crackly imperfections of vinyl only enhance the experience of listening to music this draining, bottom-heavy, and so very steeped in Southern whiskey.

”Vinyl has always been a viable format in the punk scene, and I don't see it letting up anytime soon. It might seem like more people are buying it these days because less people are buying CDs. With mp3s becoming the most popular format, I think more people are downloading music. And the ones that do buy CDs just rip them to their computer and never look at them again. So for people who are still collecting records, vinyl seems like the logical way to go. Vinyl is the best because it opens up a lot of options for the packaging of the music which really makes the overall record come together much better than with a CD. You get a tangible product that requires a lot of care, whereas CDs get scratched easily, discarded, and lost. And personally, I like the warmer sound of vinyl. I hope the fact that we put out so much vinyl helps to get more people into record collecting, design, actually reading the lyrics, etc.--as opposed to just having some background music playing on their computer or iPod”

Thou’s throwback sensibilities fit them well, as a young band who’ve allayed themselves with the very core of what makes metal metal – the doomy, heavy, world-ending riff, first forged by Tony Iommi’s crippled fingers and now, dragged through the muck of a Louisiana upbringing. For a batch of bearded Southern boys, though, Thou aren’t simply content to draw from the expected sources and bow down before the almighty Eyehategod.

“Well, Eyehategod is definitely an influence, but for the most part I wasn't all that into doom when we started this band. It's actually kinda cool because as we were writing songs and figuring out our sound, we were just beginning to get into all these bands and were eager to see what excited us about this music. That, I would say, is the main reason Tyrant wears a lot of different influences on its sleeve. When you're jamming Isis and Electric Wizard all day, some kind of mutant creature is bound to surface. Living in the South hasn't really affected our sound too much, honestly, besides the anger we feel living in a sweltering, humid climate and being surrounded by apathetic, fucked up people. But like I said, Eyehategod, Crowbar--those bands have definitely left their mark on us, and I always check them out when they play around here.”

Speaking of live actions, earlier this year Thou earned the distinction of being invited to play on Sunn 0)))’s historic GrimmRobe Demos tour, and won over hundreds of newly-deafened fans as a result. Says Andy, “We were definitely WAY into Sunn before the tour, so the whole thing was a bit surreal. The way it happened was this: Greg from Sunn/Southern Lord had offered to repress Tyrant and we took him up on it. Then, he offered us a small tour with Weedeater in October and we took him up on that too. Things fell through with the Weedeater tour, but he still wanted to help us out with some shows. It just so happened that he and Steve were planning the Sunn tour, and so he offered us a couple dates with them. We were beyond stoked, and the shows were incredible. We were pretty well-received from what I could tell, and we got to bring some friends with us for the trip. The whole thing would've been even more surreal if Greg and Stephen weren't such nice, down-to-earth guys. They, along with their whole crew, were just incredibly easy to get along with. The Philly show at the First Unitarian Church was phenomenal. Being raised Catholic, it was pretty strange playing scathing doom to people sitting in pews in a church. And we got to play with Tony Conrad in NYC, who is pretty much a living legend. Those two shows, coupled with a handful of amazing DIY punk shows, made this the ideal tour for us.”

Utterly discontent to rest on their laurels and take a damn breather, Thou have already planned out a full release schedule for the rest of the year that includes a series of splits and a brand-new LP that they promise will be out by fall 2009. They very recently released a 12" EP entitled "The Retaliation of the Immutable Force of Nature,” which, true to form, came out on bloody clear vinyl, and will hopefully do its part to keep hungry sludgefreaks desperate for new Thou material at bay until 2009 rolls around!

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