Album review: Thou – Umbilical

Louisiana sludge extremists Thou go back to basics on this sonic assault of a sixth album…

Album review: Thou – Umbilical
Olly Thomas

Thou have long been the wild cards in sludge’s fetid ranks. Dive, if you dare, into their sprawling discography of EPs, splits and collabs, and you’ll find everything from a whole album of Nirvana covers to alliances with noise duo The Body and haunting singer/songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle. However, this first straight-up full-length since 2018’s Magus finds them going back to something resembling first principles, driven by thick masses of downtuned depravity and hardcore-adjacent attack. And anger. Oh, so much anger, directed both outwards and inwards.

Bryan Funck’s vocal style is a harsh, unforgiving shriek, disgust and despair in sonic form. Titles like I Feel Nothing When You Cry and I Return As Chained And Bound To You give some idea of the abjection and nihilism fuelling these songs. Narcissist’s Prayer opens Umbilical with fierce self-flagellation, Bryan cataloguing what he sees as his band’s failings: ‘Compromised ideals / Friendships abandoned / Our works substandard / Principles meandering.’ It would not be unreasonable to expect this lyrical focus to be matched by the sound of a band falling apart, one last recording of Thou’s death rattle.

Perversely, though, this is simultaneously both the most pulverising and the most memorable release the band have put their name to in years. From the genuine hooks of Emotional Terrorist to the guns-blazing gallop of I Feel Nothing When You Cry, Umbilical is an onslaught of overwhelming noise. Even those Nirvana covers seem to have rubbed off on Thou: Unbidden Guest and The Promise contain trace elements of Bleach’s raw grunge action, admittedly with Kurt’s vocals overdubbed by a vengeful banshee.

Still wild cards, then, and still hitting those curveballs out of the park.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Eyehategod, Moloch, Primitive Man

Umbilical is released on May 31 via Sacred Bones

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