Review Summary: A concept album that actually focuses on the betterment of the band as musicians and artists.
From the years 490 to 430 BC, Empedocles walked the earth as one of the smartest men alive and stands today as one of the most important philosophers of all time. Where Pythagoras experimented with right triangles and tuning stringed instruments by fifths, and Democritus proposed a basic template for what today scientists call the atom, Empedocles thought further. Centuries before anyone else, he realized that light travels at a finite speed, invented the concepts of rhetoric, and created a dramatic image of himself inspiring fables and myths based solely on his death. Despite predicting many ideas that turned out true, his most famous contribution to philosophical society is a false theory- the elements of fire, water, earth, and wind. Delivered in epic poem, he presented his formal postulation with On Nature
. While not all of the poem survived through time, enough remains to gather some of his most profound ideas. The bulk of his theory stated that all matter is composed of his four elements, a false hypothesis; he extended his argument to more metaphorical applications of his theory. For these endless possibilities, the four elements, now known as the “classical elements,” artists continue to have their own say on the intriguing subject--the latest, Thrice’s Alchemy Index
Years after Empedocles’ death, Plato and Aristotle created a fifth element, known as either Aether, Idea, or Quintessence. While it physically represents everything outside of the terrestrial atmosphere, it held a much more metaphorical meaning as all that exists outside the material world. Thought, math, and music all fall under the category of Aether. Before looking at The Alchemy Index
in-depth, it is important to realize that as Aether surrounds the planet, the overall concept surrounds these two (eventually four) EPs, and they complement each other as much as they contrast each other. The aggression of Fire clashes with the calm tranquility of Water, yet they both follow similar flow and structure. In terms of general atmosphere, both EPs climax at the final song where Dustin Kensrue composes traditional English sonnets for lyrics. “The Flame Deluge,” easily the most brutal, cathartic song of Thrice’s career, connects the two EPs simply with its title, where deluge means flood. Musically, it falls from its incredible climax into a hazy, effect-laden atmosphere that brings in aspects that take prominence in the Water
EP. These subtle tie-ins from section to section draw the entire project together, lessening the inevitable abrupt change from fire to water.
Still, Thrice backs up the massive concept with micromanagement inside of their songs, as they obviously spent as much time refining the smaller details as they did drawing out the overall idea. The Fire
EP (Volume I
) fittingly opens the entire project as the first section of the first release, being the most typical Thrice style. Regardless, Thrice recognized this project as an attempt to push all of their influences to new limits, and even the post-hardcore/metal sound receives some surgical work, albeit minor. “The Messenger” mixes their core sound with electronic drums for the shortest song on the release, while “Backdraft” grows the most organically, evolving from drones, a drum beat, and a dissonant acoustic guitar melody to a huge chorus that remains catchy yet off-kilter and mathy at the same time. Fire continues along the lines of Vheissu’s
“Hold Fast Hope” and “Like Moths to Flame”- very riff oriented with wacky time signatures - yet despite the heaviness, the material maintains a semblance of melody and musicality. “Burn the Fleet” brings some much-needed variety with a less complex and more tuneful style. Although its progression from verse to chorus is predictable, it fits perfectly and sounds completely different from the rest of the Fire
section. The anthemic vocals “Burn the fleet/We’ll be heroes or ghosts/But we’ll never be turned around” cause one of the most memorable moments of the EP. From the aggressive “Firebreather” to the crushing “The Flame Deluge”, Fire
transitions Thrice’s listeners from the old material to the new by keeping their core sound and giving previews for the sounds upon which Water
) completely inverts the formula of Volume I
as electronica takes, making guitar secondary, and it reaps incredible rewards for the band. Songs like “Atlantic” timidly walked in this direction, but Water traverses into the land of Radiohead’s Kid A
bravely and confidently. Creating the perfect aquatic atmosphere, the EP experiments with more electronic drums, full-song instrumentals, and vocal effects. “Digital Sea” starts off as probably the safest song on the record, a typical electronica song with a catchy chorus. As Dustin sings, “I’m drowning in a digital sea”, the volume rises and engulfs his vocals dramatically, making the mix of lyrical and musical concept come together. This musical style fully develops in “The Whaler”, which contains a more complex and intricate beat pattern and melody. It creates arguably the best section on the album when the song releases all the tension built up by exploding (imploding?) into beautiful vocal harmonies. The bass voice descends while every other voice stays on its first note, ranging from a male falsetto to a regular tenor range. On “Lost Continent” and “Night Diving”, the guitars make a reappearance in secondary roles. The former puts the guitars in a post rock setting, with screaming high notes and quick picking, while the latter uses guitar as climatic effect for the main melody of the song. The only instrumental on the entire EP, “Night Diving” brings the variety to the Water
EP. The entire volume’s atmospheric qualities predict great things to come from the next release, proving that Thrice can do more than just post-hardcore.
With the first release of the Alchemy Index
, Thrice personifies and transforms the classical elements into a work of art, proving the true capabilities of music and technology. Moreover, the band pushed themselves to their limits, using the project as not only an artistic release but also a catalyst through which they bettered themselves as musicians. The album raises the bar even higher for their releases while leaving endless possibilities for the rest of their career. For now, they seem as dedicated to the elements as Empedocles himself.
To the elements it came from
Everything will return.
Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
Heat to fire,
Breath to air.