Thou - Summit (2010)
Thou is a downtempo metal act that blends elements of doom, post and sludge metal, with predominately black metal vocals. Formed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2005, they have released 2 demos, 8 splits, 5 EPs and 3 full lengths, of which Summit is the most recent, released July 2010.
Production on Summit is a mixed bag. On the bright side, there's a really nice, soft sense of atmosphere that begs you to get lost in it. The guitars and bass do a lot of arpeggiating, and this, coupled with the fuzzy tone used throughout the disc, makes them into a typical "wall of sound" sort of ordeal. (quite ideal for the genre Thou are working in). The drums are played and recorded with a good deal of dynamics, preventing them from becoming fatiguing to the ears. The vocals are particularly nasty for sludge/atmospheric metal - there a blend of about 3 parts black metal to one part hardcore - but they are sat extremely well in each track, and the high end is rolled off quite a bit; they never stray into irritating territory. These production elements combine to create a bit of an oxymoronic envelope - this is a sludge metal album that is actually PLEASING to the ears almost all the way through. Its a double edged sword because its so much less aggressive sounding than most recent metal you will find out there. It seems that those responsible for mastering this album made very judicious use of compression, which makes me very very happy (as someone who does a lot of recording/mixing/mastering himself) but will undoubtedly turn some metal fans off. You'll have to decide for yourself if you see it as a good thing, its much more subjective a situation than any other album I've reviewed.
Composition on Summit made me smile almost as soon as I turned the disc on. It begins with a lightly distorted pentatonic arpeggio that sets the tonal theme for the rest of the album - theory-wise, this is about the furthest thing from "death" metal you will be able to find that is still metal (aside from post-y ultra melodic stuff like Jesu). The album as a whole has a very profound and contemplative aesthetic that shows through in all elements of composition. This is nowhere more apparent than the first section of "Another World Is Inevitable" - its a major progression in 3/4 with some extended (9th i believe) chords, something you don't see often outside of jazz and more sophisticated pop, and pretty much never in metal. There are many such sections on the album. They are all very heavy in a sonic sense, but much like listening to Naja or Jesu, they will most often not sound at all negative or threatening. As I previously mentioned, the drums are executed with a similar sense of poise and control.
Summit is an incredibly original sounding album. I have never heard a more laid-back approach to metal that in the end, sounds just as heavy as anything else on the market. The fact that we have black metal vocals going over some truly profound progressions (instead of the usual "lets play whatever sounds most atonal" approach found in black and death metal) is enough to make any metalhead take notice. This coupled with the unique production style (which I count as a positive) separates Summit from the rest of the post-metal crowd in more than a few ways.
This is not an album to get yourself psyched up to go to the gym by, or to cathartically listen to when you get dumped by your bitch of an ex. This is a disc you will need to actively listen to and sort through to truly enjoy it. That said, its an absolute feast for fans of bands like Mouth of the Architect, Nadja and Neurosis - musicians who make an effort to sound dense and original enough to warrant repeated listens. If you are looking for something to mosh and bang your head against the wall to, go to one of my other reviews and pass this up. If you're looking for something truly original that will keep you occupied, and your listening attention span doesn't require blastbeats and shredding, you will love this album.
Production - 7.5
Composition - 8.5
Originality - 10
Overall - 8.7