Review Summary: A little bit of the old, and a little bit of the new. And then a little more of the new.
I’ve been following Thrice since TAITA, which was basically my introduction into heavy music. I heard Vheissu and was amazed that they could pull something as complex as this out of seemingly nowhere. And then they released this album, split into two six-track discs, each with a wildly different sound. And even within the EPs themselves, there was a kind of distinction that I rarely hear on other albums. Not that the songs were chopped up or felt like they didn’t belong on the same album, but that within that album, within that sequence, they felt unique.
Now, quality aside, here’s what you need to know: the Fire album is hard, full of heavy, at times nu-metal-sludgey guitars, pounding/crashing percussion with intricate rhythms (the most pronounced example being the opening to “Backdraft,” one of the most memorable drum beats I’ve ever heard), low, growling bass, and shouted and screamed vocals. At times, they pull back the intensity, but only to set up the next barrage of music. It is very much like the Fire they hope to encompass: at times strong and flaming, at times low but smouldering, waiting for the next breath of air. This is especially true on the warped rock anthem “Backdraft.” Everything’s there that should be: acoustic guitar, strong drumming, big chorus, instrumental outro. But, the guitar is playing strange harmonies; the drumming stomps and staggers in all the wrong places; the whispered vocals set up a strange story of madness and revenge. By the time the chorus comes, you’re almost begging for a little of the familiar. Kensrue’s vocals are good: they still have the slightest lilt of Thrice’s early punk/hardcore days, but have matured greatly to sound more like a grown man than a raging boy. Of course, his screams are fierce and greatly enhance the aggression of songs like “The Arsonist,” “The Messenger,” and “The Flame Deluge.” “Deluge,” especially, is probably the most angry, coarse song the band has ever recorded, the malice (directed at the bloodlust of man, not towards any one man) only slightly muted by the orchestral arrangement underneath the band’s attack.
With the Water album, such bombast and energy would be out of place. So, the band opted for smooth piano and keyboard textures to support what really is a pop album. The focus is on the vocals, the bass guitar is drummed up to high heaven, there are some programmed beats, and it certainly does emit the Coldplay feel-good vibes at times, even if the lyrics are as dark as this: “I awoke cold and alone, adrift in the open sea/ caught up in regrets, entangled in nets, instead of your arms wrapped around me,” from the only single from this volume, “Digital Sea.” The whole album is mellow, like listening to the waves crash on a beach from the bottom of the sea. The exception is the exceptional instrumental track, “Night Diving,” which brings out some of Riley Breckenridge’s most exciting drumming and combines it with a mean guitar riff and assorted chime and synth textures before it breaks down to a muffled, beautiful vocal harmony. The track actually feels like a reject from the Fire album, with all of the energy stored in the track. This album ends with “King’s Upon The Main,” which questions man’s pride in comparison to the power of the sea, but also reminds us that “Grace can still be found within the Gale/ With Fear and Reverence, raise your ragged sail.”
The goal with this set was to capture the elements of Fire and Water in musical ideas. Not only did Thrice pull that off successfully, but they made an album that isn’t only for the progressive:this is genuinely good music, from a band that is constantly devoted to quality. It ultimately doesn’t matter what genre an artist chooses to work in; if the music is good, people pick up on it, people listen to it. So to those of you who could dislike this album for not being like the ones before, you should try listening to the actual music. Let the softer stuff sink in, and let the hard stuff fulfill the expectations set out beforehand. A little bit of the old, and a little bit of the new: that is how we move forward, how we grow.