Review Summary: I don't know what is more surprising, that they re-recorded this classic album or that it is actually really good.The Artist in the Ambulance
was the soundtrack to my youth. It was the background music to my drunken surf trips to Rosarito, Mexico. It was the music blaring from my Mitsubishi Eclipse whenever I drove up to Long Beach to see my girlfriend. In hindsight, it was one of two significant post hardcore releases to come out in 2003; but while War All the Time
was probably more significant, The Artist in the Ambulance
was more fun. It has the energy and accessibility of the Southern California melodic punk scene, riffs that blended the best parts of metal and hardcore, huge melodic leads, and most significantly, the capable vocals of Dustin Kensrue. Sure, on earlier albums his shouts were more visceral and on later releases his singing really developed, but it was on The Artist in the Ambulance
where the two styles coexisted in perfect harmony. Sadly, this album turned out to be a transitional release, as they subsequently moved ever further into artsy alternative rock…
… and it’s that twenty years of neglect that makes it surprising to see Thrice come out of nowhere with a celebration of The Artist in the Ambulance
. What’s more, they didn’t simply go the (lazy) remixed and remastered route like so many bands before them; they actually re-recorded the entire album. I’m not going to lie, the first thing I did when I heard about this release was see if the line-up had changed since the original release; it hasn’t. The same young guys that recorded the original classic are the same old guys playing on this version. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I was a little concerned about what I was going to hear. I mean, The Artist in the Ambulance
was an aggressive, high energy, release played by guys in their twenties full of piss and vinegar. Could Dustin and crew, twenty years older, still play a style of music they haven’t touched in two decades, and could they do it with any conviction? It turns out they absolutely can.
Not only can they faithfully recreate the songs from The Artist in the Ambulance
, but in a lot of ways they sound even better here. Thanks to a more organic sound and a mix that provides more separation and clarity, the riffs are fatter, the bass features prominently, and the drums hit harder. Despite a mostly faithful recreation, there are subtle musical changes throughout the songs but most of them are of the ‘blink and you miss them’ variety. At best they make the songs sound a little more fleshed out, and at worse they’re simply there but don’t detract from the quality. The most noticeable change comes from Dustin’s vocals. There’s no doubt Dustin’s voice has changed over the last twenty years. With age has come a more gravelly and throaty delivery than the higher, punkier, sound of the original. Additionally, Dustin’s shouts are not nearly the same as they were back in the day. I’d be lying if I said they haven’t lost some of their youthful power, but they’ve also gained a fuller, throaty, quality that is just as good (just different). He has also expanded a lot of the vocal melodies with the power of twenty years of additional songwriting experience and hindsight. Whether any of this bothers you will probably depend on just how attached (and devoted) you are to the original.
To say this re-recording was a surprise would be an understatement. Thrice hasn’t bothered with music like this since The Artist in the Ambulance
, and after two decades, it seemed likely they were never going to. Instead, they have delivered a faithful recreation that improves on the sound of the original while also adding just enough new elements to flesh out the songs themselves. Yes, Dustin vocals have changed immensely since the original, and they might not be as raw and visceral anymore, but he delivers a great performance regardless. Given the choice, I’ll probably listen to this version from now on.