Raw sludge from Baton Rouge condensed into toxic nuggets of nobbly riffs and deliciously tricksy drum patterns

Accepting that there’ll be outliers, oddities and inevitable bleed between genres that sprouted from the same gnarled Sabbathantine root, it’s nevertheless fair to say that if heavy metal begat doom, sludge began as a predominantly punk concern.  

This said, though, this wasn’t necessarily the type of punk that sat neatly alongside the thoughtful, considered, right-on politics of MRR and HeartattaCk. Often it was just plain wrong. And even when early wielders of the sound nailed themselves to a cause you could believe in, you didn’t necessarily want to be taking up an offer to kip on their couch. The soul-sickness oozed through the music like maggots emerging from the body of a dead dog, and uncomfortable as it might be to admit, it was this same wrongness that often seemed to make the music sound so uncomfortably right

Which brings us to Thou: a long-running, bewilderingly prolific sludge band whose progressive politics, inclusive worldview and thoughtful appreciation of art would doubtless make for a pleasant evening sharing good beer, good opinions and the satisfying notion that one has helped put the world to rights. Music, though? Always capable, often enjoyable and sometimes actually pretty decent, but rarely if ever plumbing the ghastly depths you might find on a Grief record or that first loathsome Toadliquor full-length. 

With Umbilical, though, something seems to have gone very fucking wrong indeed. This, of course, means very fucking right. While records like Magus and Heathen pootled around in the long grass as they explored ten-minute-long songs, this latest effort condenses what the band have to offer into brief bursts of violent hate, each one treating you like a deposit of glued-on fox shit that needs to be aggressively hosed from the patio steps. Riffs are nobbly and rudimentary, repeated a handful of times before being rudely jettisoned into the void, while the pained vocal delivery sounds like nodules are being scraped from the gargler’s larynx with something slightly too blunt to do a clean job. The vitriol and immediacy of it all is exhilarating: a hardcore-influenced hostility dose that recalls Iron Monkey ripping through ‘Kiss Of Death’ in less than two minutes or that time Noothgrush covered Neanderthal. 

If this is all sounding a bit lumpen and regressive for fans of the band’s loftier material, fear not: ‘House Of Ideas’ injects the remorseless pummel with ragged guitar parts that seem intent on escaping the song’s hellish confines while the lengthier ‘I Return As Chained And Bound To You’ takes the time to factor in some undistorted wooziness that’s part-way between Alice In Chains and the queasy stumble of a Dystopia intro. It’s ‘The Promise’, perhaps, that best shows how these elements have been streamlined for maximum impact: deliciously tricksy drum patterns and a bleach-guzzling melody are welded to a simplistic lump hammer thump to devastating feels-so-wrong-it-must-be-right effect. 

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