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Thrice goes elemental with new dual-disk EPs

Ryan Raffin | Monday, November 12, 2007

Pretentious is a word that seems to get tossed around fairly often when describing post-hardcore outfit Thrice. After naming its 2005 effort “Vheissu” in reference to Thomas Pynchon’s novel “V.,” use of the word only increased.

So when Thrice announced in late 2006 that it was recording four EPs, each thematically connected to one of Aristotle’s four elements (fire, water, earth and air), the haters had plenty of fuel. How dare Thrice attempt something so ambitious? Have they no care for the fans? Luckily, the band paid no attention and produced the excellent first entry of the two-part set, lengthily titled “The Alchemy Index, Vols. I & II: Fire & Water.”

This is admittedly a little confusing; the first two EPs are packaged together, but they are not meant to be heard as one album. Each has 6 songs that are lyrically and musically distinct, two different sets of 20 odd minutes that go by too fast for the listener to ever tire of.

The “Fire” EP is what you might guess based on its name. The louder, angrier side of Thrice, it’s slightly reminiscent of their hardcore punk roots. Huge sounding choruses are everywhere – this is stuff that sounds good in a stadium. “Firebreather” starts things off with some of the heaviest riffs the band has ever recorded and with front man Dustin Kensrue singing an anthemic verse. The song even closes with a choir.

Right off the bat, the listener is given the rules: This is the new school – expect to hear different things. A programmed beat opens “The Messenger” before exploding into Kensrue’s shouting and subsiding again. It’s an ebb and flow, creating one of the best songs the group has recorded.

The subtle touches and flourishes of electronics are abundant throughout the album. Such has been present in Thrice’s sound for a couple of years now but is best realized on “The Alchemy Index.”

Another complaint that has been levelled at the band recently is that lead guitarist Teppei Teranishi no longer plays guitar solos quite as often as he used to. This may be true, but the guitar work here is consistently tighter and more complex than ever before. Kensrue’s vocal work is stellar, as usual: He knows exactly how to sing or shout in order to best fit the song. As the EP closes out on the powerful “The Flame Deluge,” it’s tough not to be left breathless. These six songs are so strong that it’s tough to imagine how the “Water” EP can match them.

Subdued from the start, “Water” doesn’t hit you immediately like its counterpart, though it is just as good. The electronics and various effects used on “Fire” continue, evident immediately upon listening to first single, “Digital Sea.” Keyboards are also very important for this EP, as nearly every song utilizes them in some way. Just like the concept of flame was central to its counterpart, there is an aquatic motif in the lyrics and music. Unlike “Fire,” though, this sounds almost nothing like what Thrice has done before. Melodic and tranquil, the band fully succeeds in creating an oceanic soundscape.

The group’s influences really show through here: Radiohead comparisons are inevitable, but wait for “Night Diving” for some very Pelican-esque guitar work. The song shines, and normally you wouldn’t expect a six-minute instrumental to grip the listener quite like this does. The whole EP seems like Thrice’s interpretation of how alternative music should sound, almost like a challenge to other bands. If “Fire” is Thrice proving they can make music as loud and powerful as before, “Water” is the band showing that they can do whatever else they want as well.

A lot of fans want the old Thrice back. They want to go back to the days of fast, hard and loud. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s not happening anytime soon. “The Alchemy Index” is Thrice’s latest progression, showing that the band is capable of creating any music they can think of, and doing it well. If the fans can’t keep up with innovation, it’s their loss. When there’s music this good out there, someone is going to hear it. This is one of the year’s best – don’t be left behind