Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Alchemy Index/ another one of my artsy-fartsy music rants

I have recently been delving more and more into the music of Thrice. I had been listening to music from their third album, The Artist in the Ambulance, for years, and I had heard some of Vheissu, but I hadn't dug into them until recently. The first thing I really noticed is that every one of their albums is notably different from the last. I love being able to observe evolution in an artist, and it has certainly happened with Thrice. They recently released their new full-length album, Beggars, which I have been enjoying immensely, but this blog will be focusing more on the immense artistic achievement that they are coming out of. I am, of course, speaking of their 4 EP conceptual masterpiece, The Alchemy Index.
Thrice have done a lot of amazing things with The Alchemy Index. The set is 4 EP length discs, each lyrically and sonically focused on 1 of the 4 elements: fire, water, air, and earth, in that order. Guitarist and producer Teppei Teranishi altered the recording techniques for each disc, so it literally sounds like you are listening to the corresponding element. Frontman Dustin Kensrue also ends each disc with a song written in the style of an English sonnet, written from the perspective of the element to mankind.
First, let's begin with the Fire disc: it is frickin' heavy. That disc consists of some of the loudest, angriest, dirtiest sounding songs Thrice have ever done, and I dig it. "We will burn it down and build it again, what was buried in flame. Burn it down and build it again from the bricks that remain," Kensrue belts on "The Arsonist."This disc is the only real heavy one of the bunch, and it doesn't relent. The closing sonnet, "The Flame Deluge," sonically resembles a world at its end, as Kensrue, through the perspective of fire, laments its "curse, this awful power to unmake."
Next up is the Water disc. Thrice add layers of keyboard textures, as well as some industrial, electronic percussion, making the listener feel as if they are floating amongst the waves. They keep the guitars very smooth, with an almost icy timbre, to contrast with the warm, wavering keyboard textures. A personal favorite from this disc is "Open Water" where Kensrue seems to compare the seas to God. "I'm starting to believe the ocean's much like you, cause it gives and it takes away." The closing sonnet for this disc is the subdued "Kings Upon the Main," and is another personal favorite both musically and lyrically. "When kings upon the main have clung to pride, and held themselves as masters of the sea, I've held them down beneath the crushing tide till they have learned that no one masters me. But grace can still be found within the gale.
With fear and reverence, raise your ragged sail."
While the Water disc felt confined in a floaty sense, the Air disc feels very spacious in production terms. A highlight from this disc is the epic "Daedalus," which is the second song Thrice has written about the Icarus myth, this time from the perspective of Icarus' father. The first was "The Melting Point of Wax" from The Artist in the Ambulance, which was written from Icarus' perspective. Kensrue claims he did this because he felt there was something to learn from both points of view. The disc closes with "Silver Wings," as Kensrue lyrically personifies Air. "I've danced 'tween sunlit strands of lover's hair; Helped form the final words before your death. I've pitied you and plied your sails with air; Gave blessing when you rose upon my breath."
The final disc in the set is Earth, and "earthy" is the best way I can think of to describe the sound. The disc is mostly acoustic, and ranges from the folky guitar arrangements of "Moving Mountains" to the jazz piano balladry of "Digging My Own Grave." My personal favorite on this disc is "Come All You Weary," in which Kensrue writes from the perspective of Jesus. "Come all you weary with your heavy loads. Lay down your burdens find rest for your souls. Cause my yoke is easy and my burden is kind. I’ll take yours upon me and you can take mine." From a Christian perspective, this is the most powerful song of the set for me. The disc closes with the piano led "Child of Dust," where Kensrue, through the perspective of earth, sings "Dear prodigal you are my son and I supplied you not your spirit, but your shape. All Eden's wealth arrayed before your eyes; I fathomed not you wanted to escape." For the final two lines of this song, Teranishi once again shows his prowess as a producer. To give the listener the sensation of being buried, he buried the microphone in a box to record the lines, creating a muffled, coffin-like effect. The final words that reach the listener in this stifled atmosphere are these: "Now safe beneath their wisdom and their feet, here I will teach you truly how to sleep."

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