Review: Thrice – The Alchemy Index Vols I & II: Fire & Water

Label: Vagrant Records

Released: October 16, 2007

Some bands seem to have potential, but early on, it’s unclear whether they’ll fulfill that. When I first heard Thrice open for Hot Water Music at the 9:30 Club back in 2002, that’s exactly the way I felt about them. The live show was dynamic and energetic, but the two studio albums were trying too hard and the result was disjointed and messy. They certainly had the potential and the big ideas for their own sound, they just hadn’t brought everything together yet.

Five years later, Thrice has shown that those weren’t just random ramblings on their early releases. They were in fact up to something big and that something begins to really pan out on these first two volumes of The Alchemy Index. The first two of the four EPs that make up their concept album about the medieval elements focus on Fire and Water.

There may not be a better explanation of the success of these volumes than the one-word descriptions that easily came to mind with each. Fire simmers, burns, explodes and ignites. It is the heavier of the albums and its churning rhythms and chunky riffs scorch the ground between hardcore and hard rock. Fire finds the band excelling at what they’ve been doing for years, turning up the heat enough to make it standout from its post-hardcore peers for both the standalone music as well as its ability to nail the concept.

Water is new ground (or sea) for Thrice. It’s very fluid and moves in waves. It’s much more low-key, but like water itself, probably more than fire. It is easy to become enveloped in the ebb and flow of its soundscapes which will carry you, pull you under, let you up. It’s a cold sea, with ambient electronics and quiet echoes and the very distinct sense of the lapping waves on the surface. Sometimes the waves are big and heavy and others they are calm and gentle, but they are always present. Water‘s musical pictures are painted with a palette that includes Pink Floyd and King Crimson, but also colors that are distinctly Thrice.

On both EPs, the song titles hide nothing about their theme and in that sense, they may border on telling rather than showing their purpose. The music is never so blunt, yet leaves no more doubt about what it has to say. Concept albums are always a tricky game that can lead even good bands astray. Thrice, however, may have found their true calling with an album that is brilliant, challenging and listenable, a trifecta seldom achieved.

As if making a great record wasn’t enough, Thrice is donating a portion of their proceeds to Blood:Water Mission which partners with local villages to build sustainable wells for the thousands of Africans without access to clean water. As little as one dollar can provide water for one person for one year. You can’t beat that, so check out their site.

The band will follow this release up with a companion double EP in 2008. Obviously, it will address the elements of air and earth.

Rating: 9/10



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