Thrice's ambitious, sprawling and highly anticipated project, The Alchemy Index finds its first two volumes released today. While the whole Index is unfortunately broken up into two releases like such, the band still offer a vividly contrasting pair of styles here that should please fans of both elements that combined for their previous effort, 2005's fairly polarizing Vheissu.
The 'Fire' EP takes quite obviously the heavier approach, progressing upon Vheissu's more volatile, confrontational moments. What ends up as a 22-minute musical result is Thrice's closest effort to a Hydra Head Records release yet in their catalog, strongly reminiscent of the pinnacle eras of acts like Cave In (i.e. the incredibly Jupiter-esque guitar squeals of "Backdraft" and "Burn the Fleet") and Isis ("Burn the Fleet"). Thrice reenforce heated imagery with plenty of lyrical references to flames, burning, generally hot temperatures and such. However, their repetitive use of it actually bogs down the EP a little. After all, frontman Dustin Kensrue seems a bit thin on ideas when he sings "I will see this city burn" in the anthemic "The Arsonist" and "we will burn the fleet" in "Burn the Fleet." However, he practically makes up for his paraphrasing alone with the literate "The Flame Deluge" and its well-integrated World War II references. Besides, his signature punishing growl, plenty of cool and varied production flourishes, the band's brutally stomping and creative instrumentation (the acoustic brushes of the creepy verses in "Backdraft") and violent outbursts (the quick, spastic "The Messenger" and its opening flames of electronics licking at the speakers; the absolutely smothering "The Flame Deluge") make 'Fire' easily one of Thrice's best and most well-rounded batch of selections to date.
Listening to the 27-minute 'Water' reads like a who's who of revered post-rock and indie acts. Thrice adapt Dntel's most delicate electronica moments ("Digital Sea," "Kings Upon the Main"), Sigur Rós' white atmospheres (constantly), Mono's elaborate orchestration ("Lost Continent"), Explosions in the Sky's starry spheres ("Open Water") and, well, a veritable shitload of Radiohead. Kensrue shows off the new peak of his voice's range with the stunning "Lost Continent," which begins with him reaching new highs over a warm piano. Thrice's general interpretation of water lies in haunting depictions of a dark and cavernous but mellow sea, especially with tracks like "The Whaler," "Kings Upon the Main" and the six-minute (!) instrumental (!) "Night Diving." Kensrue's also more consistent with his pen here, singing of a nearly heart-wrenching ocean metaphor and Davey Jones in "Open Water" and the viewpoint of a daughter desperate to have her voyaging father home in "The Whaler." It's all very methodically slow, deliberate and, sometimes, breathtaking, always changed up by effects on every aspect (vocals, electronics, piano, etc.). Those turned off by Vheissu's restraint and occasional use of piano and programming ("Atlantic," f.e.) will have an awfully hard time adjusting to the cool sauntering of 'Water,' but that's too bad as they're missing out on another superb, strong collection of pieces.
The Alchemy Index: Volumes I & II: Fire & Water is without a doubt the band's best work since 2002's fan favorite The Illusion of Safety, a fact made all the more miraculous by how DIY the album was made. Thrice push their boundaries without overshooting their capabilities, and it's resulted in an impressive, fluid and accomplished effort that leaves behind all the disastrous potential of self-indulgence.
The Alchemy Index: Volumes I & II: Fire & Water