Thou Umbilical

Thou - Umbilical


What would your younger self think of who you have become? Such an introspective notion may have entered your mind before and it is certainly an important question to ponder when thinking of our trajectory as an individual. To better understand who we are, we need to reminisce on who we have been. For Thou, Umbilical is the product of a years-long meditation on this sentiment. The result is a time capsule containing a masterful collection of riff-laden and vitriolic diatribes addressed to the band from their former selves.

Umbilical is the most recent addition to prolific Louisiana metal collective Thou’s impressive catalogue. The record comes six years after the release of 2018’s Magus, though songs have found their way to listeners in performance and even an Adult Swim live recording of all new material teased tracks like “Lonely Vigil” and “House of Ideas” back in November, 2021.

For a metal band, Thou have always had a very ‘punk’ and outsider mindset, eschewing the conventions of most heavy music and largely making music for themselves. However, with an almost two decade tenure as a band, there are times where compromise and acquiescence are the only tools available to ensure longevity. When you’re young, it’s easier to stand on the pedestals of ideology, but time and age make fools of us all and reality always collapses the wave function of lofty prognostications about the future. In the verbose and heady press release for the record, Thou state their recognition that they are ‘never going to appeal to audiences who demand that art rigorously enforce a coherent and righteous worldview,’ as well as posing the deeply philosophical rhetorical question, ‘are we not ourselves constrained by our own rigid morality?’ The second verse of “Emotional Terrorist” echoes this as Bryan Funck venomously snarls, “Everything I’ve ever done / Everything I’ve ever said / Everything I’ve ever felt / Is a chain around my neck.”

In more digestible language, the band acknowledge they have painted themselves into a box of their own legacy and any departure is bound to upset someone. With all this said, Umbilical is anything but a placation. The songs have been trimmed of all fat, stripped to their essence, and imbued with a hardcore ferocity not heard on Thou tracks since their early days. While the live favorite track “Smoke Pigs” did serve as a sonic template, it would be disingenuous to call the return a return to form. The band did not seek to reinvent the wheel, but neither did they intend to try and make years-old lightning strike again. A more apt description of Umbilical might be a concept Carl Jung devised and called ‘individuation’. The purpose of this within therapy is facilitate an individual in the process of becoming truly themselves. The process is difficult and painful because it requires someone to encounter themselves in their entirety, positive and negative. Such shadow work is spoken in the thunderous downtempo trudge of “Lonely Vigil”. “When the shrieking eye turns inward / To the prison without locks, / Weakness laid bare / The artifice peeled back / The true face is revealed”

To toss aside the psychological allegory and focus on the record at hand, Thou have accomplished something extraordinary. They have sidestepped the pitfalls of aging out by leaning into it and speaking to it. Though the vernacular used in the lyrics might require a visit to, the messages are universal enough to contextualize within the lifespan of Thou as well as to apply to your own moments of brooding self-observation. Simply put, most heavy bands are emblematic of a particular time in someone’s life and that period holds less and less relevance to the members as they age. If a metal band does manage to survive beyond the youth of its constituents, it often comes at the cost of diminishing returns. However, Thou is not one of those bands. For almost twenty years now, Thou have established themselves as an exemplary model for authenticity and artistic integrity within the realm of heavy music, never bereft of profundity whether they are speaking to the ills of modernity or maturation. Umbilical is a masterpiece of extreme music from a veteran band with more energy and vigor than most bands half their age.