“Ode to Physical Pain” is the exact title you’d expect a metal band to whip out at the end of an album.
But Thou are no nihilists. Hell, they don’t even like being called a metal band. “Ode to Physical Pain,” is, instead, the logical conclusion to the tortured, yet triumphant Heathen; a deep dive into the physical world, our interactions with nature and humanity’s base desires. No, this is far from fatalism; it is the least subtle reminder that you are alive. And it is a monstrous, wondrous thing. So, read our thoughts on Heathen, listen to our interview with Thou and hear why it’s the best of the 10s.
“Submit” is the implied opening word of Heathen. It’s there in the title, the guitar squeal, the slow build ambiance. And Heathen holds its title and its demand to submission in two minds. One is tradition: a Heathen is someone to be cast out, a lesser. The other is acceptance: we are all Heathens, ready to dance around a bonfire at any moment, indulging in our basest desires, succumbing to no morals beyond pain and pleasure.
And the music, somehow, matches it. When Bryan Funck streeches the word “we” it bellows forth like a collective unconsciousness demanding respect. The music grinds along, sledgehammering every down beat, dragging our ears through soil. The production allows both for ample amounts of seething distortion while making the thwack of drums echo out like an eruption. “Open your eyes and exalt In this fragile world/ In this knowing flesh/ In this very moment,” howls Funck on opener “Free Will.”
Though best paired with its spiritual kin Magus, which explored the inner-world of the mind, Heathen stands as the crowning moment of Thou’s absurd run this decade. Tyrant, Summit and Magus all stand as testaments to Thou’s fearless view on music and humanity, and Heathen meets its lyric visions of absolution and disintegration at the foothills of a Louisiana mountain, of a young deer fleeing through the underbrush, of a gnashing hoard of gibbering voices flowing through the body. “Take Off Your Skin and Dance in Your Bones,” isn’t just a title, but the only thing to be done as the crushing and euphoric Heathen marches on.