Magus is not an enjoyable album. Vast, grim and lethargic, Thou’s fifth album is a profound 70 minutes of abrasion and disgust. The tone is best described as soiled, the mood as miserable, and at roughly the same crawling speed throughout, weary–sounding, with Brian Funck’s black metal snarl embellishing the dirge–like qualities. Nothing happens in a hurry, but nor does it luxuriate in the way that Sleep or Electric Wizard do. As a result, it is completely overwhelming, and this is what makes Magus so distinctive and Thou stand above the sludge pack.
With a collection of preceding EPs focusing on acoustic, grunge and noise, on Magus Thou direct their energies into doubling down on the sludge and density. There is an immutability in the way that Funck never sings clean (with the caveat of clean guest vocals here and there), and lyrically, the go-to subject of intoxication has been forgone for philosophical despair and social issues:
“And so we descend into the slithering depths
lit by the luminous torch of measureless thought
awash in meaningful chaos
rising in meditative glory above the grey names and sunken dreams” (‘Inward’)
“Withering in meaningless conflict
drowning diversity in the shallow pool called homogeny” (‘Transcending Dualities’)
A real downer of an album, Magus is an uncomfortable listen, and in addition to its intensity, will be remembered for its challenging nature. Despite how good it is, it’s a hard listen to take in at length, and at eleven songs over 70 minutes, is as much a mood piece. But that is the nature of sludge, and that is that is the nature of grief and despair; it doesn’t end when you want it to. Magus embodies this, rolling on like a slow wave of suffering.
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Words: Gregory Brooks