The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II



by BlindWriting USER (7 Reviews)
January 4th, 2008 | 14 replies

Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Thrice's ambitious 2007 release, though often interesting, is too musically and conceptually stunted to be as successful as it thinks it can be.

The idea to create a concept album can bring about results that are either thematically oppressive or musically free. Or, sometimes, both, polarized as these two outcomes may appear. Maybe, thinking back on it, post-hardcore quartet Thrice has been a likely candidate for such an adventurous writing process, since their past two releases simmered with refreshingly broad musical palettes and equal parts melody and metal. Fans of the more experimental material, namely in 2005’s Vheissu, had their prayers answered when the band announced that they would begin work on a project that tied together the forces of fire, water, wind, and earth into four EP-length packages. It must have sounded promising to anyone following the band, as it initially seemed like Thrice was finally embracing the multiple styles they jam into a single album––or, sometimes, a single song––by splitting them apart and exploring them with the depth they deserve. After all, Thrice is no typical modern hardcore outfit, and have always owed as much to Metallica as they do to Refused as they do to the Cure. And hey, if Queensryche can blast out operatic epics about future societies gone mad and murder and mayhem, then surely Thrice could tackle a theme as open-ended as the elements.

And so, in late 2007, Thrice revealed the work that was looking more and more like a magnum opus. The entire project would come in two discs to be released half a year apart, with six songs devoted to each element; fire and water on disc one, air and earth disc two. In a promotional interview for the six songs on the fire portion, drummer Riley Breckinridge said, “We’ve been told by producers that we work with that usually your first inclination is your best, so we try to capitalize on that, listen to those first ideas.” Right there is the album’s primary hindrance. The Alchemy Index: Vols. I & II – Fire and Water, despite all its promise and the band’s growing reputation, is musically and thematically stunted. It is the sound of a band that let concept become not just a parameter, but a prison for their sound as well.

With its mid-tempo pace and optimistic chanting, is opening track “Firebreather” really the sound of its title’s scorching, destructive element" Maybe not, but it isn’t a bad start, either. The band chugs along with baritone guitars and amps turned up to eleven, promising us with each passing second a sound that will develop as the disc spins. However, once “The Messenger” ends almost as soon as it starts, one cannot help but feel that Thrice, on the heels of its bloated concept, gets creatively lazy. Just when the song starts to get interesting, just when it explodes into the fury that the past six minutes of album had been promising, the band pulls the plug. The band should not have mistaken its “first ideas” for the only ideas. Even frontman Dunstin Kensrue’s impressive and constantly improving roar, all Isis-like, earth shaking, straight from the gut, isn’t given time to shine before the band merely settles, contented with its thin, surface-y “first ideas”, and moves on. A shame, really, considering Thrice’s knack for crescendos on explosive Vheissu cuts like “For Miles”.

Only half of the fire side––“The Arsonist”, the moody “Backdraft”, and the theatrically brutal “The Flame Deluge”––really deliver with the goods (since a lifeless power-ballad like “Burn the Fleet” has no place in a collection like this), where conceptual control is balanced with wise musicality. But after six short songs, one can’t help but think, “Is that all"” The towering idea of fire is never fully explored. It’s as if the band members put their hands to the flame and decided it was too hot to plunge in any further. There’s very little closure to be had, but maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising given the band’s open interest in ever-masterful Thomas “scratch-thy-heads” Pynchon. So maybe the problem lies as much in quantity as it does quality. Six songs isn’t enough to hit the mark with the inferno that Thrice wishes to conjure.

The water section, which promises to explore the electronic influences that swept over Vheissu, is more successful. Using synthesizers, drum machines, and atmospheric guitars, Thrice is absolutely convincing in their ability to produce complexly-arranged sonic beauty. There is a careful precision to the interaction of live and computerized instrumentation in this shimmering and often dramatic half-dozen. However, the joys are initial, as Thrice once again seems to just settle and leaves their song structures simple. Each of the first three songs on the water section bear the same formula: engaging electronic intro, bouncing verse, sweeping chorus, repeat, as if the band was brave enough to take the first plunge underwater, but, after coming up for air, was too hesitant to journey back down into their depths. The voiceless “Night Diving” starts as an impressive aside into post-rock territory but unfortunately doesn’t go the whole nine yards and offer the sense of rising tension that the format requires.

The lyrical content, on the other hand, offers a different kind of surprise. It’s really quite baffling, as most of the time, the lyrics in this section are characterized by elegant storytelling and poetic grace––which is why it’s all the more cringe-inducing that Kensrue fills any gaps with banal stock phrases; you know the type: “between the devil and the deep blue sea” and “stare into the abyss” and “swallowed by the sea” and “the sea calls my name”. Taglines for adventure movies that only serve to remind listeners of a concept without really delving in. What are they doing mottling some otherwise lovely wording" Could it be another extension the band’s continuing satisfaction in, once more, say it with me this time, just settling" Thrice are still young. For a band this recent, they’ve done a lot of genre hopping, most of it successful. It’s no surprise that at some point their ambitions would get the best of them. It is also possible (and, really, when is it not") that the record label played a hindering hand. It’s becoming more and more commonplace for a double album project to be split in two, released separately, and priced equally. If only the band had included all four elements in one two-disc release, the concept would have worked for rather than against them: the massive scope merely implied, let alone explored, by the band would have added a sense of grandiose achievement to the whole project. The flaws discussed previously might have been overshadowed or even ignored if Thrice had gone all the way and made the idea whole.

But then again, it’s easy to see why mine is an unpopular opinion. Thrice are, when it comes down to it, just a pretty darn likable bunch of guys. Kensrue’s earnestness has always been his best quality. Drummer Riley Breckinridge pounds through odd time signatures and shifting dynamics with professional competence. There’s enormous appeal in a band that’s so interested in variation, capable throughout its career of blazing hardcore, melodic command, and emotional honesty. And, in an era where only a handful of sounds dominate the airwaves, there’s no shame in Thrice trying. Their willingness to experiment sets them above their mainstream peers. Let’s just hope that next time around, Thrice goes all the way with their explorations and ties their many sounds together. That might be a few years, so at least in April we’ll get to see where they’ve gone with air and earth. There’s little doubt that their irrefutable energy will carry over well into further genre hopping. Ambition, especially in today’s musical climate, says a lot.

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user ratings (2143)
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • FlawedPerfection EMERITUS (4.5)
    A concept album that actually focuses on the betterment of the band as musicians and artis...

    204409 EMERITUS (4.5)
    Thrice releases Kid A and the Infinite Sadness....

    Acre (3.5)
    Thrice dissect themselves and explore the core ideas of their music, with solid results ov...

    SpinLightTwo (5)
    At the end of the day [i]The Alchemy Index: Volumes I & II[/i] is a contender for best con...

  • SoCalPunk21 (4.5)
    Thrice continue their experimental expansion and craft an impressive first entry in a powe...

    BryanintheGale (4)
    A little bit of the old, and a little bit of the new. And then a little more of the new....

    camdizzle (2)
    The songs on Volumes I & II of the Alchemy index are not bad by themselves, but the album ...

    Mixhail (4.5)
    Thrice dares to go where no band goes before: 4 uniquely sounding discs for the purpose of...

Comments:Add a Comment 
January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 2.5

I know I'm in the minority here but I figured I would give it a shot. I genuinely like this band, especially The Illusion of Safety and Vheissu.

January 4th 2008


I figured I'd give these guys a second chance. I kinda gave up on them after Artist in the Ambulance came out. I was so disappointed with this. The concept is weak, and some of the songs are weaker. I wish it was better, I really do. I want to like this, I just can't force myself to dig it. Maybe over time it will grow on me, but I doubt it.

January 4th 2008


Really good review, you backed yourself up well. I love the direction Thrice took with this concept.

January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

I like your review...your opinion? not so much :p

January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

Awesome review but you make me sad

January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

What chan said.

January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

i agree about totally with this review which btw is well done.

but i still would give it better then 3.5

January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

Really well written and I definitely agree that the music of Water connects better with the theme than Fire, I just disagree with you on a few key elements. I love "Burn the Fleet", despite its unfiery tempos and power. I'd hardly call it a power ballad.

I think you simply put too much weight on the concept and less on the music (though your criticism of the music was very intelligent, when you did it). That's why most people don't rate the album high, and I think it's better to just enjoy the music because it's great stuff.

January 4th 2008


Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks for the comments everyone, I'm always open to criticism.

January 5th 2008


this is the first and only album of theirs that ive heard. i love the water disk but not so much the fire one

January 5th 2008


Album Rating: 3.5

Really good review, keep up the good work. You backed up all of your points pretty well. It was also nice that you shared a lot of the same views as me on this album/band.

January 5th 2008


excellent review... top notch opinions based on cultural and artistic implications.

I'm going to read more of yours now because this is one of the best I've seen.

January 6th 2008


Album Rating: 3.0

Great review and i pretty much agree with what you say. Its a ripped off concept in itself but to do it in the way they did, lacking in the ability to truly take chances, led to a big letdown for me.

January 21st 2008


This is a really damn good review. Haven't heard this album yet, although I'm planning on getting it soon.

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