The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth

Written by: PP on 19/05/2008 17:27:34

As much as I love Thrice as a band (they are my #1 artist on Last.FM closely followed by Alkaline Trio), writing reviews about them resembles a nightmarish scenario. This is because the band are musical innovators in their own right, creating some of the most artistically complex material that approaches aural perfection for anyone who understands anything about music. Reviewing \"Vheissu\" was already difficult enough, as the band overdid themselves on literally every area, be it the musicianship or the ear for timeless melody that you judge by. But that record was nothing compared to the quad album \"The Alchemy Index\", easily the band\'s most ambitious and most artistically complete album to date. The band released \"Vols. I & II: Fire & Water\" back in October, and now it\'s turn for the last two discs of the quad album: \"Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth\".

If you had a chance to explore the first two discs with enough time, you surely noticed the ambient brilliance of \"Water\", and the aggressive heaviness of \"Fire\", and probably rated each highly despite each having a sound universe almost polar opposite to the other. Although \"Earth\" and \"Air\" lay out for a similar juxtaposition, it isn\'t as direct and pointy as you would imagine.


You\'d imagine \"Air\" to be a near-acoustic disc with light melodies supplementing Dustin\'s soft and delicate vocal harmonies, right? That isn\'t the case at all, as \"Air\" is both heavy and huge in sound, containing some of the spaciest songs we\'ve heard from the band yet. \"Broken Lungs\" opens the album with a bomb. Together with \"Daedalus\", these two make for the best Thrice songs on the whole compilation, if not their whole career. They\'re full of Dustin\'s soaring vocal lines alternating between huge echoing screams and the delicate vocals we talked about before, and the melodies... oh man, the melodies are larger than life. I\'ve never heard Thrice sounding this BIG while beholding intense tightness in the process. Another great example is the \"Sky Is Falling\", which has close similarities to Thursday\'s \"War All The Time\" material, which also highlights the reason why many believe Dustin Kensrue to be the best vocalist of the modern times: his powerful voice falls through the soundscape (and through your roof) with the force of an atom bomb several times during the song. You have to hear it to believe it.

\"A Song For Milly Michaelson\" arguably takes the price as the most touching, full of feeling Thrice song to date. Dustin\'s never sounded as convincing with his soft voice than here, and though the quiet guitar melody might sound simple at first, its disguised complexity, and more importantly the way its written, should impress the listener after several repeat listens. Same goes for the second \'light\' song \"As The Crow Flies\", which has amazing lyrical content, but the closing track of the record \"Silver Wings\" is a bit of a disappointment after an otherwise incredible disc. I think it\'s safe to say that \"Air\" contains some of the best songs of their career, and this is judging both stylistically as well as in terms of how appealing the record is to the regular Thrice/music fan. [9]


So on \"Air\", my prediction went about half right - I expected silent, floating guitar melodies and soothing vocal work by Dustin. The bit I missed was the soaring vocals and heavy songs that I hadn\'t expected. On \"Earth\", however, my prediction seemingly places completely off the charts, as the first thing that entered my mind when I heard the fourth disc would interpret \"Earth\" musically, was rough, ground-shattering aggression, a portrayal of an earthquake if you will. Instead, Thrice\'s interpretation of the fourth element has little to do with earth itself (other than the lyrical content, of course), and more to do with nuances and influence from the sounds of a celebratory feast by the aboriginal population of Earth, ranging from the rhythmic sensations from an African Tribe to impressions from the American-Indian population and/or the Australian aboriginals. All of that translates into \"Earth\" through a classical piano, some percussion, and an acoustic guitar. The first track \"Moving Mountains\" is a good example of how the band creates that traditional vibe by changing the production method of the song - gone are the huge soundscapes of \"Air\" and \"Water\", and in comes a tiny sound with a small echoing hum, depicting a late night campfire hang out imagine. \"Digging My Own Grave\" sees Dustin reach into Soul, and as a result his vocal performance is unfathomably great.

\"The Earth Isn\'t Humming\" is a bit too unconventional in its sound to fit as a Thrice song (think Tom Morello\'s The Nightwatchman here), and although the piano ballad \"The Lion And The Wolf\" has received considerable praise in the press, neither one of these songs really do much for me on the record, especially because they are followed by \"Come All You Weary\", the best song on \"Earth\" by leaps and bounds. There\'s some mood-inducing electric guitar here, and Dustin sounds more engaged and passionate in the song as opposed to the distance in his voice on the rest of the \"Earth\" tracks. \"Child Of Dust\" has many of the same qualities, but instead of bringing the ultimate closure to an album full of grandeur, it leaves the listener craving for more tracks like itself and the aforementioned \"Come All You Weary\", and less of \"The Earth Isn\'t Humming\". I\'m sure the band planned for the listener to go through all four discs in order to thereafter stand in awe, inspired over the instrumental complexity and the incredible songwriting of the band, thinking something along the lines of \"Wow..wait.. just wow..\". Instead, I found myself thinking \"was that it?\" after the \"Earth\" disc. A more aggressive finish would\'ve been a perfect ending to an album that otherwise is full of sheer brilliance, no matter what way you look at it.

Overall, I must say that \"The Alchemy Index\" is an absolute masterpiece, one of the best things to come out from the music industry in many, many years now. Its ambition exceeds that of a Tool album, and at least in my books, Thrice has long gone surpassed Tool in terms of artistic creativity without sacrificing quality in any way. My only concern is how on earth will the band top any of this for their next release.

Download: Broken Lungs, The Sky Is Falling, Come All You Weary, Daedalus
For the fans of: Deftones, Tool, 30 Seconds To Mars, Thursday
Listen: Myspace
Buy: iTunes

Release date 16.04.2008

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