Reviewed by Kep
Thūn – Thūn
Death/doom from the UK/USA
Releasing June 16 via Eat Lead and Die Music
I’m a sucker for a concept album. I love it when a band writes a damn good story. I worship Coheed and Cambria, I eat up everything that Hideous Divinity releases, Opeth’s My Arms, Your Hearse is one of my favorite records of all time, and what metalhead hasn’t listened to King Diamond’s Abigail and adored every second? I’m also a huge fan of Bull Elephant, the anonymous UK-based collective that has released two amazing progressive doom epics, the first two of a planned trilogy. The story is basically this: Indiana Jones flavored with Lovecraft, plenty of Nazi bad guys, and necromancy. It’s a hell of a fun time.
So when I heard about a new international project named Thūn, based in the UK and conceptually described as “Bull Elephant adjacent,” my interest was piqued. Then, when I read that our lord and savior Karl motherfucking Sanders of Nile was attached as lead guitarist, I was 110% in, no questions asked. Seeing the promo hit my inbox felt like destiny. I devoured that first listen, and it didn’t disappoint.
Thūn isn’t just “Bull Elephant adjacent” thematically; it’s Bull Elephant adjacent in sound as well. The base of both bands is doom, but while BE’s material features proggy elements and leans more toward classic doom (including plenty of clean vocals), Thūn leans to the death metal side of things. It’s an epic, sweeping musical style with an underpinning of pissed off ire that feels appropriate for the subject matter: a Lovecraftian turn on the destruction of the natural world by soulless, selfish corporations. That’s right, we’re punching up at the monster of capitalism here, and Cthulhu is probably making an appearance before we’re all done.
The band isn’t just doing lip service when it comes to the environment, by the way. There’s only one version of the album available for purchase: a high-quality, full dynamic range digital download, partly because “a 24 bit download is a superior audio experience to vinyl, CD, or, ugh, cassette” and “the last thing the world needs is another splatter vinyl or an unfathomable cassette release.” But more importantly, this also means the release doesn’t generate any additional plastic or waste. The band says that they feel a physical release that creates more unrecyclable junk is counterintuitive to their message. They do offer a hardbound 24-page artbook with lyrics, made from sustainable and recyclable materials, for those who want a physical component. From where I sit it’s always nice to know a band is more than just talk when it comes to issues like these.
But enough about that, let’s talk music! Thūn is a 7-track, 36-minute experience that is just about perfect in terms of pacing and variety. The musicians are all on impressive display across the board, with every member shining independently while the band shines as a whole. Lead songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Jon Higgs pulls off what will probably stand as one of the best vocal performances this year, delivering weighty gutturals that fill speakers and periodic higher, hoarser screams. He also adds clean singing on a few occasions, always placed intelligently in the scope of the song, and, most impressively, a series of incredible Rob Halford-esque high operatic shrieks at the close of record-ender “Gaiacide”. His songwriting is likewise stellar. The tracks feel like living things—attacking violently, breathing calmly, glowering ominously. Even longer songs like opener “Thūn” are fresh from start to finish, riffs invoking everything from blackened and dissonant death metal to Black Sabbath.
Sanders, who initially met Higgs when giving him a one-time guitar lesson before a Nile gig a decade ago, is every bit as perfect in the lead guitar role as you’d expect. His leads add an additional sense of murky darkness to doomy passages, with dissonant and exotic motions that increase the listener’s overall immersion in the album’s soundscape. His leads are just so damn fun to listen to, like the wavy, snakelike motion of the main riff in “Intertwined Collective Fate” that undulates so exotically that you can’t help but smile. And if you had any fear that Sanders wouldn’t be in his element soloing at doom tempos, don’t worry—he runs the gamut like a true master, channeling styles from Iommi to Azagthoth, and all are magnificent. “Cage Within a Cage” features an awesome passage starting at 1:38, where one stately, vibrato-heavy solo is followed less than fifteen seconds later by a shredfest that would be right at home on a Nile record.
Hugo Wilkinson (bass) and James Knoerl (drums) make up the rhythm section and both measure up with no problem to the immense talent above. Since all band members performed and recorded their parts separately, there’s an obvious freedom in their parts. Wilkinson really nails the counterpoint aspect of a good bass line, his riffs sometimes straightforward and driving and other times funky and agile. Knoerl, an experienced session drummer, is spectacular, delivering rhythms that work with and expertly enhance the plethora of riff stylings. He’s in his element throughout, whether he’s blasting, driving with rapid double-bass patterns, or using a jazzy sense of syncopation to spice up relaxed moments like the middle section of “Righteous Violence”.
A word on the mixing and mastering—it’s fantastic. Though recording was done individually, Higgs handled the mix and mastering was done by Damian Herring of Horrendous, who’s a real talent in the field. The record sounds great. I wouldn’t change a thing.
If you’re like me and you think that this album being excellent is good news, then I’ve got some even better news for you: Thūn is planned at minimum as a four-album project, and albums 2-4 are moving forward quickly with drums already tracked. Better get this one into your collection quick!
Favorite song: Thūn
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