Album Review: Thou – Umbilical


Album Review: Thou – Umbilical
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

It would be easy to cast Baton Rouge’s Thou into the same Sludge mould as many of their Louisiana contemporaries, and you wouldn’t necessarily be doing the six-piece a disservice. But Sludge is merely the starting point for Thou and, across their five albums, dating back to 2007’s Tyrant, and more extended plays than can have a stick shaken at them, the band have twisted and morphed the NOLA sound to their will.

Up until 2018 the band were on a run of prolific full-length and EP releases yet turned their attention to a couple of collaborations with musician and visual artist, Emma Ruth Rundle and, more latterly, a joint venture with Mizmor for the Myopia album in 2022. Leading one to consider Boetcker’s comment about judging by company kept.

Umbilical is the first full-length album from Thou since the band’s Magus record saw the beginning of their association with the Sacred Bones label, and finds, despite the six-year gap, it’s business as usual for the sextet. Opening with fuzzy guitar and a huge bottom end, Narcissist’s Prayer is built around a hammering, repetitive riff, closer in NOLA terms to EyeHateGod than Crowbar or Down, with the Punk elements clashing with a Scandinavian Black Metal sound, though both genres are natural bedfellows.

The Sludge becomes a recurring theme across Umbilical, a motif that the album repeatedly revisits; be that through the doomy, Sabbathian breakdown of Lonely Vigil, or the heavy, but grooving riffs of Panic Stricken, I Flee, or Siege Perilous’ slow and ominous progression that sounds like you’re dragging a body through a swamp.

Album Review: Thou – Umbilical

From the outset, Thou have always had an element of Black Metal influencing and infusing their sound and, over the years, have made themselves quite adept at balance both parts of the band’s nature. The grim and dirty tones of Emotional Terrorist is further enhanced by Bryan Funck’s tortured vocals; and both House of Ideas and I Return as Chained and Bound feature unforeseen post metal interludes among the blackened sludge.

I think the real curve ball here is Unbidden Guest’s Nu vibes and angular riffs propped up by off-kilter rhythms. Though, to be honest, the accessibility of both I Feel Nothing When You Cry and The Promise came out of leftfield. The former is probably the cleanest sound on the record and has the kind of big catchy hook that Bolt Thrower managed on Cenotaph and The Killchain; while the latter darkens itself and plays the kind of Black n’ Roll you might find on new Satyricon or Dark Throne releases.

As you would expect of Thou, the performances are first class. Funck’s voice is the perfect balance of demonic and stoner; Matty Thudium and Andy Gibbs’ guitars howl and shriek like torture victims, while Mitch Wells fills in the core as Tyler Coburn beats the drums like it’s personal.

I last saw Thou back in 2018, when they were part of a touring package with Converge, Crowbar and Grave Pleasures and, even with three other world class bands to contend with, the NOLA crew more than held their own. Now that the global insanity is behind us, let’s hope the band managed to get back to Europe and make a few stops around the UK to promote this treasure-trove of an album.

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