Fire and water are two elements necessary for life; one provides sustenance to support all living creatures while the other provides the energy responsible for the very reactions that make life possible. Yet, despite their shared importance, both substances remain polar opposites and mortal enemies. When combined, water quenches fire and fire causes water to evaporate if given the right circumstances. The fact that these two substances remain completely different yet both extremely important in their own right make them a perfect descriptive inspiration for the first half Thrice’s highly ambitious, four EP undertaking The Alchemy Index.
The Fire EP is a collection of the harder songs that we knew Thrice was still capable of composing. This is not the Illusion Of Safety era intensity but the newer post-hardcore heaviness hinted at on Vheissu. Audibly sharing more in common with Cave In than Metallica, the disc is a culmination of the aggressive aspects of Thrice and sees the band achieving the nearly impossible goal of sounding incredibly heavy despite the lack of galloping drum beats and thrash metal riffs. The lumbering baritone guitars of “Firebreather” set an emotive tone before the song takes a completely different direction and climaxes with gang vocal harmonies over Kensrue’s impassioned belting vocals. It’s amazing to see how far Kensrue has come vocally since the band’s inception. Looking back it would be tough to imagine the complete transformation he has made into full fledged front man, demanding attention on every flame induced word. “The Messenger” is a fiery (no pun intended) blast that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Artist In The Ambulance. The track is two and a half minutes of Botch-like guitars and Riley Breckenridge’s thunderous drums creating an atmosphere of urgency that ranks up with some of the hardest-hitting material Thrice has ever composed. Allusions to fire are scattered all throughout the lyrical content, and although there is no lack of direct elemental metaphors, the topic is woven seamlessly, and more important tastefully, into Kensrue’s intelligent repertoire of lyrics. The production on both Fire and Water is spot on and an excellent screen to filter Thrice’s creative vision. Like Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come, the production is used to enhance certain segments instead of making it sound like the same recycled songs over and over. When the mix suddenly drops into low-fi mode during “The Arsonist”, Kensrue screaming in what sounds like a large echoic room acts as a unique addition adding a quality of originality into an already interesting piece. From here we are gripped out of the volcano and plunged into the ocean for the second half of the natural journey.
The yin to the Fire EP’s yang, the Water EP, ranks among the strongest material Thrice has created to date. The six-song set encompasses its topic, trading in the cacophonous instrumentation of the first half of the album for reverb and delay soaked keyboards and synthesized drum beats. The interesting part is that despite its calmer demeanor, the water songs are just as heavy as those residing on the Fire EP, just a different kind of heavy. The moody vocals on “The Whaler” when Kensrue asks, “When are you coming home to me?” can’t be taken as anything but genuine and beautiful. This performance proves that the band is capable of captivating every ounce of attention through the subtle roar of a whisper. The keyboards and syncopated beat of “Digital Sea” show a distinct Kid A era Radiohead influence, but not so overbearing that it takes away from what Thrice has created. From Explosions In The Sky to Sigur Ros, the outside inspiration of many ambient bands is clear on this EP and the homage to these acts only pushes Thrice further out of the box in which they once resided. “Open Water” could be considered a counterpart of sorts to Vheissu’s “Atlantic” due to its similar tone and operatic chorus. Simplicity and atmosphere are the keys to the success of the second part of the Thrice’s four-part opus, and luckily for us, they never once cross the dangerous line of sounding like their evolution is forced.
Put away your preconceived notions of the band and look at The Alchemy Index Volumes 1 & 2 for what it is. Sure, some longtime fans may be put off by the transformation and pine for their hardcore heroes, but the band is maturing and writing some of their best material thus far. This is not The Illusion of Safety, and although each album the band writes shows a progression, I wouldn’t want the band to try that sound again. This is Thrice more confident and comfortable than they’ve been heard in a while. Like their fan base, the band is maturing and with this growth a change is required, which in this case is a welcome one.. There is more present on this album than a listener can digest in one sitting, which could deter potential listeners, but with the right amount of dedication, the first half of The Alchemy Index can satisfy your urges for hard and soft alike. But the effects are much larger than that. Like the very same ancient elements that inspired this album, it is possible for two completely different forces to coexist on a single plane and produce something awe inspiring. This is exactly what Thrice has done by uniting their love for different genres of music and combining them into the record they wanted to make. Thankfully, the combination of fire and water doesn’t smolder out, but flourishes, creating yet another impressive Thrice album.