Does anyone here really know what it is to have the massive expectations for an upcoming album? Thrice sure does. The scrutiny thrust on them to write another solid album after three already great ones is a lot to bear. They are an extremely talented foursome, however, and according to singer Dustin Kensrue, Vheissu is by far their most ambitious effort to date.
In a genre criticized for the lack of diversity and artistic merit, Thrice have stood out as the one band not willing to compromise talent or ideas to write a record to "cash in quick." They had an impressive debut, avoided the sophomore slump, and continued that forward momentum with an album well received by fans and critics alike, The Artist in the Ambulance. So where does that leave Vhiessu? Where it would be easy to undergo an identity crisis, the band forges ahead with their strongest and most varied effort to date, and everyone is going to want to take notice.
"The Image of the Invisible" starts the album in much the similar fashion as Thrice has been known for, heavy, but maintaining that melodic edge without sounding contrived. It's the kind of song that would perfectly find a home on The Artist in the Ambulance, but oddly, very few tracks on this effort fit that oh so similar profile. That's what Thrice has managed to do so well here: Progress, without alienating any of the fans made along the way. They've taken on a far more atmospheric and groove-driven sound, and are much more prone to experiment with different styles and sounds than on previous efforts. When they do deviate, it's a testament to their growth as musicians and bandmates; one listen to "The Earth Will Shake" seals that deal. It's songs like this that exemplify the double-edged sword analogy, as while it will most definitely garner them respect for the ability to evolve, a lot of the old fans might not appreciate the direction.
We dream the ways to break these, iron bars.Fitting words for a fitting progression. The beginning of the song has a real old blues feel to it in the vocals and production sound, like it was recorded a cappella by Dustin singing in a bar. That sound also comes back halfway though the song, before Dustin's familiar scream explodes in a giant roar with the thunderous guitars of Teppei Teranishi and Dustin himself coming into play, making the song a very aptly named one. There's also some eerie organ inclusion to further add to the atmosphere the band is working so hard to create. Organ isn't so outlandish, or out there for Thrice, though, so how about a real mellow song with some choice use of the vibraphone? "Atlantic" has a very low, haunting feel that's only heightened by Kensrue's vocals and the vibraphone. "For Miles" is another very low-key, mellow track that doesn't let loose until the very end, where both guitarists have ample opportunity to shred. That's something immediately noticeable on this album, is that the speed of previous Thrice efforts has been forgone for power and melody. The guitars are as loud as ever, but the pace is such that doesn't ever give time for pointless solos that may have previously existed. After the piano intro, "Like Moths to a Flame" does some heavy channeling of Isis, and they channel them well. There's a lot more singing than you'd ever find Isis having anything to do with, but if it works, don't knock it.
It's by that time most will have decided whether they like the new direction or not. And inevitably, some won't. Those who continue to listen will continue to be rewarded. The powerful "Stand and Feel Your Worth" is one of the best songs Thrice has ever written, and it shows how rewarding patience can be. In sounds that mirror Jason Gleason, formerly of Further Seems Forever, Kensrue effortlessly glides through the song as it builds into a crescendo, culminating with the guttural screams fans of Thrice are used to. Is that a new song formula? Definitely not. Is it done with expert precision? Absolutely. As has been mentioned, Thrice is no longer about speed, or even power, but the atmosphere each song gives off.
There are people that will be put off by this because the whole album doesn't sound like "The Image of the Invisible," and that's fine; those aren't the people the band wants to listen, anyhow. I'm not going to sit here and talk about this being groundbreaking; it's not, but the road Thrice has turned down is one surely lined with gold. They've pushed themselves that extra mile down the path to create something special, something people will remember, and this record perfectly illustrates that.
I don't know if I'll be listening to Vhiessu in two months, but while it's in my CD drive, it's making quite an impression.