Let me be the first to say that the wait has been worth every second. This record, which will be released on March 25th on CD by Gilead Media, and co-released on vinyl by vocalist Bryan Funck's Howling Mine in the US and Vendetta in Europe, sees the Baton Rouge sludge band at the absolute height of their significant and awesome powers. Heathen's 10 songs, covering 70+ minutes, finds the band doing everything they have always done so well, better. This should come as no sleight to any of their previous work - I've gone on record as saying that my love for Thou knows no bounds - but they've apparently grown significantly, and have evolved into one of the heaviest sludge bands that anyone has ever heard. But it must be noted that while Heathen is Thou's heaviest work to date, the album is also their most melodic and beautiful. They have channeled their songwriting capabilities into creating one of the most monumental metal albums in existence, weaving soft, melodic passages and prosaic, often ecstatic lyrics into the crawling, resplendently heavy riff-laden metal that they've been known for. And this is no mere collection of songs; this is a cohesive and ambitious record that, while centered, covers a variety of topics and emotions.
In the true spirit of the record and the band's DIY punk ethics, I should keep this in perspective and note that the album isn't necessarily about creating something historic in scope or magnitude; it is simply focused on harnessing the freedom, hope, and despair of right now. Both the musical and lyrical approach of the record is to concentrate on what is, giving little thought to what has been or what might be. The present is all that exists. If you need convincing on this, wait until you hear the album opening "Free Will" and the penultimate track, "Immorality Dictates." If you don't agree after hearing these, consider yourself a lost cause.
I've spent a lot of time with this album, and have played it probably 15-20 times, and I can honestly say that it gets better every single time. And it's not that I'm finding something new each time I listen to it - it just reminds me of where I am and what I'm doing, and what I'm doing is listening to a perfect record. I sincerely believe that there is nothing that Thou could have done to make this a better record. I've felt that way since the first time I heard it, and nothing has changed my mind.
NPR will be streaming the aptly-titled Heathen in its entirety some time before the release date in March, so you'll have to wait a little longer to hear it, but trust me when I say that your patience will be rewarded.