How Thou Use Punk and Grunge to Make Music That’s Loud as an Earthquake

Thou are coming back to Phoenix.
Mary Manchester
Thou are coming back to Phoenix.
Thou don’t rock so much as they ripple.

The Louisiana band’s music quakes and shudders like the aftershocks of some gigantic thing stomping across the earth. They sound like the kind of group that uses seismic charts for sheet music. It’s heavy metal that’s genuinely heavy. Turn it up too loud, and the weight of their sound would probably pin you to the floor.

Formed in 2005 by guitarists Matthew Thudium and Andy Gibbs (no relation to The Bee Gees), the group merged their love of punk and grunge music with the slowest strains of heavy metal: doom, drone, and sludge. Over the course of four studio albums, several collaborative records with The Body, and dozens of EPs and compilation tracks, the band forged their signature sound. It’s a crawling, expansive tremor with singer Bryan Funck’s raspy growl riding on top of it.

To put the band’s work in context, they’re another link in a growing chain of bands that use deliberate tempos to brutalize their audiences. For a time in the 1980s, speed was king. Heavy metal was the home of pedal-to-the-floor dynamics. Guitarists played their instruments so fast it was like they had become leather jacket-wearing hummingbirds. Their hands were always in a blur of motion. Bands like Metallica and Slayer sounded like they were trying to riff fast enough to break the speed barrier.

But over time, slowness started to win the race. As subgenres like stoner metal and doom started gaining popularity, metal bands and fans alike found that measured songs could be just as intense as shredfests. Such songs seem to grow in size and scale as they plow forward, building up momentum like a creeping avalanche. It’s music that suffocates and crushes the listener, as opposed to trying to run over them.

You can hear that awesome power in Thou songs like “Free Will” and “New Orleans Is a Hole.” They’re long songs. One of Thou’s virtues is the patience they put into their music, giving it the time it needs to stretch out and take up all the space in people’s ears. But something else emerges from listening to their music: a sense of atmospherics.

It’s this quality that separates them from many of their doom and sludge peers. Taking a page from the black metal playbook, they imbue their tracks with moments of pastoral beauty and chilly, melodic textures. You can really hear them playing with these aspects of their sound in Thou’s 2014 full-length Heathen, which intersperses contemplative instrumentals like “Dawn” and “Clarity” throughout the record. They’re lovely, spiritual-sounding tunes that offer listeners a breather before apocalyptic tracks like “At the Foot of Mt. Driskill” swoop in to wreck their chill.

Thou don’t just isolate their prettier moments on transitional tracks — they also fold them into some of their most epic songs. Take “Feral Faun,” which starts off as a slow, meditative strum before building up into a pummeling storm of punky guitars and throat-shredding groans. And the biggest surprise of all is their experimenting with “clean” vocals, like when they had singer Emily McWilliams contribute hauntingly beautiful singing on “Immorality Dictates.”

Perhaps part of the reason the band is keen to play with their sound is their interest in music that’s outside the metal sphere. Singer Funck has gone on record about being a huge Fiona Apple fan. At one point, he’s said, the entire band was working on an album of Fiona Apple covers, but scrapped the project when they couldn’t find the right angle for it.

The band also celebrate Nirvana’s work. Aside from frequently covering the seminal grunge act’s songs in concert, Thou also had T-shirts made with Kurt Cobain with a gun that read “Live in the ’90s, Die in the ’90s.” And sometimes, the band has performed with a backdrop that was a photo of Cobain with the words “I died for your sins” printed on it.

While it’s plain to see that Thou love indulging in the black humor that is a staple of their genre, they’re not so eager to indulge in other genre cliches. In a recent interview with Cvlt Nation, Funck expressed his disinterest in “spikes, leather, skulls, wolves, blood, death ... I don’t know, I’m put off by that stuff. I think everybody in Thou kind of is. It’s not that it’s cliche, it’s that it’s very farcical. It’s not what this band is.”

Rather than sing about the devil, the band often use nature as a source of lyrical and visual inspiration (they often use woodcuts and wilderness photos for their record art). They also sing about anarchism, a viewpoint that’s blended into how they conduct themselves as a band. For years, Thou offered most of their work for free download on their site. They eschew booking agents for most of their tours, choosing instead to do the legwork themselves. It’s also why they often play DIY spaces rather than big clubs. Many of their past Valley performances were held at underground all-ages spaces in Phoenix and Tempe.

While the band’s style of music is slow, the rate at which they release new music is lightning-fast. Thou have essentially grown up in public. They release new singles, EPs, and records at such a prolific clip that you can hear the band growing and improving with each new release.

After hearing the incredible work they put in with The Body on their last collaborative album, 2016’s You, Whom I Have Always Hated, it’s exciting to imagine where the band will take their sound next. Whatever direction they take, they’re bound to produce more music that’ll flatten their fans like a boulder dropped on Wiley E. Coyote. And that’s just the way we like it.

Thou are scheduled to play at The Rebel Lounge on Tuesday, July 18. Tickets are $13 to $15 via the Rebel Lounge website.