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To call an album like Heathen epic is to damn it with faint praise. The fourth album from prolific doom experimenters Thou, the Baton Rouge band takes various and sundry bits from across the metal world to create an album simultaneously filled with crushing despair and stark, fragile beauty. Like a flower growing up through the concrete, Thou sprinkle their sprawling, dark compositions with tiny moments of light that defy the odds to break through the monolithic walls of sludgy guitar. These moments lend an air of hopefulness to an otherwise oppressive sound, giving the listener a lifeline to escape the brooding doomscapes Thou have laid out before them. Although the album sports a daunting 75-minute running time, Heathen is an engrossing exercise in heavy metal escapism. Thou create a sonic world meant to both challenge and assuage the listener, making the experience less of a marathon and more of a flowing, never-ending dream. Every piece of the album fits together perfectly, allowing it to move gracefully even as it's getting ugly. This also means that Thou never provide the listener with an easy out, so once Heathen gets moving, there's no stopping it until it reaches its destination. Fortunately, this is an album that is not only a pleasure to ingest from beginning to end, but one that almost demands that the listener get right back on and go through it again. And, like any great album, Heathen rewards repeat listens with new surprises, giving anyone with the fortitude to wade through the muck and sludge even more glimpses at the warm, shoegaze center that lives at the heart of this doomy juggernaut.

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