The Body & Thou You, Whom I Have Always Hated

[Thrill Jockey; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: doom, sludge
Others: Mistress, Matter, Labrat

Since the release of their inaugural collaboration EP, I’ve been wondering whether the sludge metal modus operandi of Thou would complement or suffocate the depraved compositional demeanor of The Body. Both acts harbor a fascination for the macabre, a sense of respect for their heavy metal heritage, and the ability to thrust their listeners into a blistering self-stylized pit of turmoil. After the deployment of Released From Love, all that remained open was the extent of influential sway one group might have over the other. Although they share a desire to drag their respective audiences through a void of “desperate unfulfillment,” “negative views,” and “the trap of mortality,” their methods for achieving this are very different.

The seething energy Thou demonstrated on last year’s Heathen saw them adhering to a highly refined embodiment of blues-flecked sludge metal. Sure, the album was loud and corrosive, but it also saw the band at its most contained. The Louisiana quintet sounded like they had a specific road map with little room to maneuver (see “Feral Faun,” with its delicate guitar buildup and staggered percussion, followed by all-guns-blazing, slow-motion cacophony). Conversely, on The Body’s most recent (non-collab) full-length, Christs, Redeemers, Lee Buford and Chip King exemplified an unwavering lunacy that collided layers of distorted samples and unfathomable shrieks amid stunning vocal contributions from The Assembly of Light Choir. Christs was terrifying in a way that Heathen could never have been, a consequence of The Body straddling the same beast as Thou, but with an adjusted sonic arsenal.

You, Whom I Have Always Hated is a fucking heavy record, an absolute destroyer in fact. With thunderous riffs and gargantuan bass lines that come wrapped in noise and effects, the album certainly has moments of genuine terror. The downside is that those moments are few and far between. “He Returns to the Place of His Iniquity” and a cover of Vic Chestnut’s “Coward” offer the bleakest and most depraved sequences, where the former track constructs atmosphere by way of its ambiguous direction and the latter permits King to belt his vocals in a way unparalleled elsewhere on the album. It’s during these sequences when the record is at its most engaging, a splendid portrayal of The Body’s mania being guided, but not constrained, by their partnership.

However, it’s Thou who dominate the trajectory for the lion’s share of the album. Vocalist Bryan Funck takes the reigns on “The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills” and seldom hands them over, which is frustrating when you can hear Buford’s distortion loops tripping across the percussion on “Manifest Alchemy” while Funck pelts lyrics that echo, rather than tear apart, stereotypes of doom and sludge. But it’s not until later when the album hits its low point: a Nine Inch Nails cover that feels more hackneyed than revitalized, where “Don’t take it away from me, I’ve got someone to hold on to” does have the potential to inflict a shuddering response, but for all the wrong reasons.

That being said, Thou channel their energy consistently and with precision. This allows them to build unforgiving levels of aggression on tracks such as “Beyond the Realms of Dream, That Fleeting Shade Under the Corpus of Vanity,” with its devastating bridge and sweeping hooks. Funck occasionally sounds as possessed as King, when his vocals become gnarled to the point of choking — it sounds unsettling, at least until King rallies behind him with a series of raging screams, a hint as to where the excitement and ingenuity truly lie here.

And so we are left with an album that’s heavy as fuck, but also contained and impassive for a band that has otherwise been unhinged for the past 15 years. Even though there are persistent clues here as to how The Body have been able to redefine the genres they often get lumbered with, Thou are increasingly drawn back to their roots and the albums that made them want to join a band in the first place. Collaboratively, then, You, Whom I Have Always Hated makes for a solid metal album, but the attribute that gives it an edge works also as a reminder as to just how imaginative this collaboration could be the next time around.

Links: The Body & Thou - Thrill Jockey

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