With Umbilical, Thou have severed the cord from their experimental selves, eschewing it for tortured sludge-punk and spiteful introspection.

Release date: May 31, 2024 | Sacred Bones Records | Bandcamp | Instagram | Twitter

For a band who have shown their relentless heaviness for getting close to 20 years, the career of Thou has been a wildly varied and exciting one. As well as the bludgeoning nature of their heaviest songs, they’ve given in to their own experimental sides, explored collaborations with an array of artists as well as covered their influences to give them a shot in the arm. They’ve remained a fiercely independent and DIY band throughout who have played by their own rules, only it seems they’ve even been playing dirty by those judging by the inward-facing aggression they’ve unleashed with their sixth album proper, Umbilical.

At 49 minutes, it’s not the sprawling masterpiece of Magus or the oppressive heaviness of 2022’s Mizmor collaboration Myopia, but that’s the point. A return to their earliest and fiercest work, reminiscent of parts of their first two albums and using fan favourite song “Smoke Pigs” (originally from the split with Black September and re-recorded for 2021 compilation Hightower) as a starting point, it’s an album that leans a lot more into their punk and hardcore roots than ever before. Umbilical is reminiscent of the set I saw them play in Manchester in 2019; none of the experimentation, none of the clean vocals, Thou have simply turned up to bring down the building on themselves and their crowd.

From the outset it’s immediate, vitriolic and crushing. Don’t be under any illusions that this is the band that backed Emma Ruth Rundle or released a sprawling sound world around their last full-length. Opener “Narcissist’s Prayer” sets the standard, sets the tone and begins the beating. One track after the next it feels as if you’re travelling up the closer to the mouth of an erupting volcano, the rumbling shakes you to your core, the sound of the explosive mouth deafens you, all the while bombs of lava rain down upon you. “Emotional Terrorist” sums up where they are with their music, a continuation of the sound of their crushing Nirvana covers (songs which themselves were bathed in self-referential hatred and a love of punk), but with a much more extreme take on punk, hardcore and their own metal. With belting drum blasts and a gargantuan breakdown, it tonally has the feel of the dour metalcore of Harms Way mixed with the straightforward anarchist stylings of Born Against while being a uniquely sludgy Thou song.

Both singles “Unbidden Guest” and “I Feel Nothing When You Cry” are similarly harsh yet simple. Shorter than a lot of Thou songs since their earlier splits and albums, they keep the back to basics approach which makes Umbilical as heavy and effective as it is. The simplicity allows the weight of James Whitten’s production to shine, the rumble of the bass and the pounding of the drums lying beneath the girthy distortion is a sound to behold. The production of Bryan Funck’s ungodly vocals are even harsher than normal, highlighting the purity of feeling throughout his lyrics. Lyrics which are poetic and angry as Funck’s writing style make them both impactful while indecipherable and open to interpretation. ‘Unbidden guest drawn through the gateway of exposed nerve, an open portal, a door unhinged by soured expectations, harsh resentment, constricts the chest. Will I never be rid of you?’ feels like a stab at the ‘chuckleheads’ who permeate Thou’s shows , with no understanding or respect for who Thou are but simply there for the tonal aggression dished out. Hearing it, I’m struck with its similarities to depression as unwelcomed bringing dark emotions and physical torment and unwilling to leave.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Thou have deliberately removed any trace of their grandeur (you might not actually given the sheer volume of anger on Umbilical) but it is still here. The first sign is on “House of Ideas”, featuring Uniform’s Michael Berdan, which begins with minutes more of the bludgeoning sludgey hardcore that typifies the first half of the album before giving way for a shining guitar lead. The melody takes the song by the neck and transforms it into an expansive journey that finds the balance between violence and wonder. This sense is also the overarching feeling coming towards the end of the album. “I Return As Chained And Bound To You” similarly finds a balanced approach, this time giving way to an Alice In Chains inspired, though it quickly gets consumed by the album’s trademark distortion and vitriol. “The Promise” is the clearest nod to true NOLA sludge we hear, on the whole Umbilical is largely stripped of recognisable sludge riffs, eschewed in favour of tortured punk. It holds that sense of weight of the genre while remaining true to Thou’s uncompromising vision for the album, a look at what Crowbar could sound like if acid was poured onto their skins.

The final two tracks almost give in to the atmospheric highlights of their earlier albums. “Panic Stricken, I Flee” has the sludge flavour that they’ve carried while largely steering clear of elder worship, especially to lean into their punk roots but it’s the closer which is most interesting. Earlier albums were largely traditionally heavier than the experimentation we’ve become more used to from Thou, with longer and more atmospheric climactic tracks. On Tyrant there is “Monstrance” and on Summit there is “Another World is Inevitable”, tracks which endeared them with a doom metal crowd less used to introspective, anarchist viewpoints and even punk as an idea. On Umbilical, they’ve brought back the exploratory climax but without a sludge riff and without a doom metal sound. “Siege Perilous” is a monolithically heavy closer that keeps the aggression going to the last, while reminding listeners that Thou are certainly no strangers to letting the notes ring.

James Hetfield once caused controversy suggesting that a part of him was proud for Metallica to have been used as torture music in Guantanamo Bay where the prisoner felt it was music of the devil, the US government must have thought this was uniquely heavy too. I can only imagine what either would think of what Thou have served up on Umbilical, with their ungodly snarling and skeleton-rattling textures shaking the core of the listener. Umbilical’s purity of feeling is second to nothing I’ve heard in a long time, completely spiteful and hateful music for themselves, for the world around them and for most people who interact with the band.



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