OK, hands in the air: Who thought Thursday was going to bounce back from the major label death machine this well? More importantly, who thought that Epitaph Records was ever going to sign a good act again? Ever since the label tried “expanding” a few years back, their roster has been cluttered by shitty acts from all walks of life: rap, metal and whatever the frick Panic at the Disco clones like the Higher count as, have been diluting a once vital punk organization. Thursday’s true return to indie-dom, Common Existence is a good fit for Epitaph. Both sides prove they still know what good post-hardcore music sounds like.
But enough expounding on Epitaph’s poor life decisions. Common Existence washes the bad taste of Sage Francis and Escape the Fate right out. The record is somehow forward-thinking, further pushing the more atmospheric approach glimpsed at on the band’s split with Envy last year, yet speckled with retro stylings of previous albums. The leading track (and single) “Resuscitation of a Dead Man” is arguably the closest thing the band has done to revisiting their old (pardon the term) screamo sound. There are gang vox and harsh riffs and even some full-on screaming from Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. In truth, it’s a lot more fluid than Full Collapse ever was -- flush with needling guitars and floating keyboard lines -- but that chorus is pure 2001.
Hopefully, all those wieners who thought Thursday peaked early (you fools!) will be stroked enough by McIlrath, because Common Existence runs the heck away from that sound for a little while. “Last Call” is a lumbering behemoth of song that has more in common with Ride and Deftones than it does Taking Back Sunday or Hawthorne Heights. The slightly re-recorded “As He Climbed the Dark Mountain” gets recycled from the Envy split, which is only half-disappointing since it’s still a killer tune. “Friends in the Armed Forces” revisits some of War All the Time’s ethereal/heavy attitude. Frontman Geoff Rickley gets as explicit as he can with lines like “I’m sick of tying yellow ribbons / Praying not to see / Another folded flag to a mourning mother / He was an army of one but they’ll find another.” We’ve had plenty of anti-war and pro-soldier anthems in the last six years; this is one of the better songs to blend the two.
The record’s middle drops hardcore for an almost shoegazey effect. “Beyond the Visible Spectrum” starts out rocking, but fades into haze. “Time’s Arrow” cuts through some of the fuzz to offer an acoustic contemplation on abuse in reverse, with some trippy backwards audio to boot. “Unintended Long Term Effects” goes back to rocking balls. Partnered with the more ethereal “Love Has Led Us Astray” (the only song here that feels undercooked) and “You Were the Cancer” later on, it gives the record a pleasing ebb and flow. “Circuits of Fever” opens with eerie feedback, throws in some pounding drums, and then takes its time finding its groove. It starts off like a standard rocker before bassist Tim Payne leads it into a second life as a triumphant toe-tapper.
So, what is Common Existence? Perhaps I can define it by what it isn’t. It doesn’t constantly pummel, which would have been great but grating. Common Existence tries to explore as many vibes as possible for a broader picture. It’s a pretty expansive album. It’s neither Thursday’s darkest (that would be War All the Time) nor their most anthemic (A City by the Light Divided, son!). It’s a bit more distorted than that, and like the black and white photos included, it can get pretty haunting. Rickly is a little more buried in effects, with the reverb pushed up. The guitar parts are less distinct, blurring together into a beautiful mess. And that’s kind of like life, our common existence, in general.