Review Summary: A lighting of the 9/11 aftermath captured in a bottle.
Emo Classics Series: Episode X
Let’s face it, Emo can be a rather unpleasant word for some, and not every band who is described as Emo liked their label as an Emo band, with artists such as My Chemical Romance
and Panic! At The Disco
even reject it.(Though the latter would later accept the label in a question section held by BuzzFeed) As a result, many publications would either call some heavier-sounded Emo bands as a post-hardcore band, in order to minimise backlashes by the artists. Some fans may be bewildered by such actions, as the term “post-hardcore” can be quite difficult to define. However, for me, such label is reasonable, since Emo is essentially hardcore punk with experimentations of cathartic lyricisms, extreme dynamic shifts, pop sensibility and arty sonics. Such feature is perhaps at its most crystallised in California rockers Thrice
’s major label debut The Artist In The Ambulance, further proofed that Emo is a subsidiary of the post-hardcore genre, as it displayed every hardcore punk essence with sentimental qualities and some complexity twists, without jettisoning the technical prowess, the ideal and simplicity of the hardcore punk genre.
For starters, this album offered listeners searing lyrical critiques on the political state of the US at the time, highlighting the post-9/11 urgency upon the album’s release and the political tendency of the punk. None other tracks did this job better than the album chaotic closer “Don’t Tell and We Won’t Ask”, which the title might lead to some casual listeners to think this song is about George W. Bush’s despicable don’t Ask, don’t tell policy. However, this song is actually a much bigger Bush whacker than many thinks, as frontman Dustin Kensrue describes about the action of the then-president to send the US army to Middle Eastern countries at the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the highlight song. With caustic lines such as “Paint the target /We don't need no evidence /Flood the market /We do it all in self defence”, “Sit and think of /All the dollars and the cents” and the screamed lines of “Your actions all are justified”, Kensrue really confronts the president for being ridiculous to send army in the name of self-defence and world peace, and accusing the then-president for trying to earn more money by stealing the oil in the Middle Eastern country, all the while setting “Don’t Tell and We Won’t Ask” as a perfect closer that sums up the whole angst-ridden mood of the album. This is not the only politically charged moment in the album, as Kensrue would also satirise the capitalist, elitist society at the time (the melodic album opener “Cold Cash and Colder Heart”, evident in the the horrifying line “We've learned money matters most, so we keep our cards held close”), depict the overt use of power by the government with the metaphor of the Salem Witch Trials (the Slayer
-thrashing-recalled highlight “Under a Killing Moon”), slate the deceptive media (the explosive “Hoods On Peregrine”) and accuse the superficially fierce US government (the genuinely fierce metalcore-tinged “Paper Tigers”), showing that Thrice isn’t your typical Emo band that only lament about their personal lives, as they displayed their strong political tendencies in these songs just like fellow New Jersey rock band Thursday
With that being said, the band is also capable of sculpturing our darker side of humanity and vulnerability with other songs as well in this album. In fact, Kensrue displayed his more nihilistic side in songs such as “Blood Clots and Black Hole”, “Stare At the Sun” and “All That’s Left”. The driving first one is a morbid tale of struggling with thoughts of self-injury and suicide, as lines such as “Though feels like fire inside of your veins /Burning right beneath the wrist /Begging for a razor's kiss /To free it from your skin” achingly tells the perspective of a depression patient; the second one is a melodic thrasher that describes the protagonist finding the way in life, as he study numerous saints and scholars to find the perfect way to live and wait for a miracle, so he could get out of his misery, a theme that is universal to many who are tired of living through a repeated cycle; the latter meanwhile is a hook-heavy highlight that reflects himself trying to fix his mistakes, yet ending up making it worse, which is strongly evident in the line “We tried to bleed the sickness, but we drained our hearts instead”, all the while being flourished with the juxtaposing guitars. However, Kensrue also showed some darkly universal moments in songs such as the scream-driven “Silhouette”, with the song describes the singer how his now-wife helped him to see his real, broken him, with lines such as “Your eyes, sifting my soul /They leave me broken and forge diamonds from the coal” and “Your eyes slit the throat of all I know about myself in this life”, makes an expansion on the definition of a genuine romantic relationship. All of these mentioned showcased that Thrice has much more dimensions than some contemporaries do, proofing that they are not just bands that only focus on a single topic.
Speaking of universal, the band isn’t just focus on the universally dark and fragile moments of humanity, as the band showed themselves capable of making chanting universal anthems as well, which is showcased in songs such as “The Melting Point of Hot Wax” and “The Abolition of Man”. The Evanescence
-like former is written in the perspective of the mythological character Icarus, as Kensrue claimed he is willing to find out the definition of impossible, while proudly proclaimed that the melting point of wax meant nothing to him. Like I mentioned in the review of Bleed American, if this kind of material fell into the wrong hands, it will just end up as a boringly lame encouraging so-called anthem, but with the clever use of the mythology reference and the profound question, “But how will I know limits from lies if I never try？”, this song is an anthem that is enough to melt our doubts; the mosh-ready second one, is a PSA to everyone who is obsessed on sacrificing everything in order to reach their goal, shouting to them that dismantling everything isn’t the solution, as smashing the only cup isn’t a smart solution. Although it is as strong as “The Melting Point of Hot Wax”, it falls into the mistake of repeating the verses, which seems that Kensrue did not have any better lyrics at the time, resulting the song as a relatively weaker moment in this album. Despite that minor misstep, these songs still further broaden the scope of the album, which define the band as artists that work on multi-dimensions.
The most rewarding moment, however, is when the band gives a self-introspecting moment, and that’s none other than the undisputed crowning jewel of the album—the title track. In the melodic, urgent song, Kensrue describes an artist who was saved by a paramedic after a near-death car crash in first perspective, while realising he was owning his life to a stranger, and reevaluated about his responsibility as an artist, as he also realise saving someone lives is more than just the “flashing lights and sound” from an ambulance. With perfect reflecting lines such as, “What I have to show except the promises I never kept？”, “I know that there's a difference between sleight of hand and giving everything you have” and “Rhetoric can't raise the dead, I’m sick of always talking when there's no change”, and the fact Thrice have been donating part of the sales to a different charity organisation with every album, “The Artist In The Ambulance” is an unlikely inspiration song that makes you reflect the meaning of your life, while showcased the powerful depth of this album and the band.
Even though the songwriting is generally sentimental, very relatable and quite impeccable in this album, and the performance throughout the album is remarkably consistent for its powerful technical prowess, thanks to the brilliant guitar playings backed with an impressive rhythm section, it doesn’t escape the fact that The Artist In The Ambulance suffers from redundancy slightly in terms of sound. For instance, the songs sound quite similarly to each other that I had to check that whether I repeated the song in the player. However, the bright side of it is that this could help the album to remain in a more uniform sound in the album, as it really gives the album a consistently chaotic and urgent mood and a strong integrity.
In short, it may suffer from monotony sonically, but this album still glows like a star with its poignant lyrics, powerful and focused technical prowess and a wonderfully broad scope, a slightly flawed yet strongly indelible post-hardcore classic. Sure, Thrice may go on to be more complex and experimental in their follow-up masterpiece Vheissu, with experiments of genre and lyrics that really put themselves in the forefront of the post-hardcore genre, and the fact that Thrice is better described as a post-hardcore band than an Emo band. Nevertheless, The Artist In The Ambulance proves that Emo and post-hardcore can go hand-in-hand, or even define that Emo can be equal to post-hardcore itself.
|other reviews of this album|
Album Rating: 4.5
Hi guys, this is the tenth and final episode of the Emo Classics Series. Finally, I am glad that I could complete this rather gruelling yet highly satisfying series.
Oh, since this album is mainly categorised as post hardcore in this website instead of Emo, yet it ended up in many publication's list, I decided to give a shot to review this album anyway, so feel free to give any constructive criticism to this review, whether is it about the category issue or other stuffs.
Moreover, I will publish a list that will quickly recap the series.
One more thing, I would like to unveil my next upcoming series:Reading Lineup Series! In that series, I would handpick some more prominent acts who would perform in Reading and Leeds Festival and review their most recent album. Of course, like I mentioned before in the previous review, there will be both positive and negative review, and the genre palette will be broader.
Digging: Slowdive - Slowdive
Album Rating: 4.0
Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off
Somehow emo went from Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Weezer to Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy, and The Used. I'm still not exactly sure what those two groups have in common (besides Jimmy Eat World, which sounds like a mix of the two sides), and it's one reason why I think the term "emo" is essentially meaningless.
In terms of the actual writing, you do a lot of quoting and comparing (looking at Slayer and Evanescence comparisons) that I don't think is necessary. It reminds me a lot more of an actual literary analysis that I had to write in high school. Music reviews should be a bit more subjective. I want to know what you get out of the album, not simply what the album is.
"The most awarding moment" should be rewarding, not awarding.
Final comments, the last 4 songs on this album are better than the rest of the songs. In my imaginary ranking of every Thrice song (I'll get around to this someday, maybe after Palms drops), those 4 songs all make the top 20.
Album Rating: 4.5
Thank you for your point, I just believe that being subjective would make the review biased, just take a look on how many album reviews panned some now-classic albums as a result of emotional bias, so I just simply pin-point what the album and compare them, making the review very objective.
Yes, this review may look like an actual literary analysis that you would write in high school, because I am a high school graduate who just got his open exam results yesterday, so I just write this review based on the quality of the album, not what I feel about this album.
For the term "emo" is essentially meaningless, I pretty much had to agree. In fact, the emo label just stereotype the bands as a group of moody teens who is tired of their lives, which is quite negative. Sure, there are some "Emo" bands who are these group of people, but this kind of label is pretty unnecessary anyway, I just think calling them an alt-rock band or a post-hardcore band is adequate already. The reason I write this review series, is just to take a look of the quality of the "Emo" album that rise to prominence in the 2000s, but not necessarily deem them as "Emo".
Another point about the song choice, I would like to state that it is based on my personal taste. The reason I called "The Abolition of Man" (one of the last 4 songs on this album) a weaker moment because I am not a fan of repeating the verses, it just make the lyricist don't have any better words to write, like I mentioned in this review.
Moreover, thanks for the word mistake, I just corrected it just to prevent embarrassment.
Oh, and one more thing to all who are reading this, I will first put out some album reviews before I get to the Reading Lineup series.
Album Rating: 5.0
A great example of why people should still review old albums. Wow. Slow clap, standing.
Album Rating: 3.0
This is not the only politically charged moment in the album, as Kensrue would also satirise the capitalist, elitist society at the time (the melodic album opener “Cold Cash and Colder Heart”, evident in the the horrifying line “We've learned money matters most, so we keep our cards held close”), depict the overt use of power by the government with the metaphor of the Salem Witch Trials (the Slayer-thrashing-recalled highlight “Under a Killing Moon”), slate the deceptive media (the explosive “Hoods On Peregrine”) and accuse the superficially fierce US government (the genuinely fierce metalcore-tinged “Paper Tigers”), showing that Thrice isn’t your typical Emo band that only lament about their personal lives, as they displayed their strong political tendencies in these songs just like fellow New Jersey rock band Thursday did.
this is all one sentence and it's hella long, you could definitely break it up a bit to make it easy to read. there are a fair few run-on sentences here, something you could work on in future reviews, but there's some really solid lyrical analysis and you got me wanting to listen to this again so pos. keep it up man
Digging: Charli XCX - Focus/No angel
Album Rating: 4.0
Don't think I've ever listened to the his without half the tracks skipping every few minutes, from the cd I bought at penny pitchers, still bangs tho