I’ll be honest: I’m starting a fifteen-year retrospective of Thrice’s seminal masterpiece Vheissu in a way that may not make sense.
It’s been just under three years since the legacy of Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me gained a sizeable asterisk. Once firmly entrenched at number two on my list of all-time favorite albums, that record transited from being a piece of art that comforted me, grounded me, and helped me through some of the darkest eras in my cycles of depression to this huge question mark of unease and memory. It was an album that had fostered a community in my life—both online on the AbsolutePunk forums and with high school friends—at the same time that depression was stealing many senses of connection. It embodied a sound and possessed lyrics that explained how depression felt inside my chest and head.
In all the ways that losing Brand New hurts a myriad of people—from Jesse Lacey’s victims to the band’s fans—my internalized struggle emerged when I couldn’t turn to “Degausser,” “Sowing Season,” or “Not the Sun” to face certain emotions anymore. I won’t pretend I haven’t turned to those songs first out of a sense of musical muscle memory in the interim years, but they don’t carry the weight like they used to. In many ways, thanks to medication and a lot of personal growth, I don’t need them anymore, at least not as I did back then. But there will always be a part of me that wants an album to feel like a home in the storm when those emotions swarm.
Last month, at a concert venue in Atlanta, before a pandemic swept the globe and the year still felt full of promise, I realized that I already had that album—one that probably should’ve been the one I’d turned to all along. One that’s brought me comfort and catharsis through the chaos of social distancing, botched government responses, and hysteria.
Way back in 2005—before my lower back hurt, before the opening band even tuned their guitars—I lurked AbsolutePunk trying to learn more and more about the “emo” scene I was discovering from the glory days of Steven’s Untitled Rock Show and PureVolume links floating around Myspace. On Fuse, where my TV was permanently tuned in those days, Island began to run commercials for Thrice’s upcoming album Vheissu. I had (somehow) never stumbled across anything from The Illusion of Safety or The Artist in the Ambulance before this.
When the album released, Jason reviewed Vheissu for AP—which I’ve now seen mentioned by many others as the catalyst for beginning to listen to Thrice. I don’t remember any specifics of the words he wrote, but I know they persuaded me profoundly—to the point where I bought Vheissu on iTunes, something I’d never done before, as soon as I finished reading the review. That day, my love affair began with the band—with Dustin Kensrue, Teppei Teranishi, and Riley and Eddie Breckenridge—that would become my all-time favorite.
Fast-forward to 2020, and here Thrice took the stage on a Tuesday night to the sound of Morse code, lights flickering in time with the beeps, the anticipation of the crowd upswelling into a growing kinetic energy fed by everyone in the room. The thing about album celebration tours is that you know precisely what you’re getting into well before you step into the venue. But what I’ve learned is that there’s a special connection when a piece of art you’ve spent literal days of your life experiencing in its polished form comes to meet you in the rawest, most real form.
“We are Thrice, and this is Vheissu.” Those are the only words Dustin said during the entire run of the album, spoken between “Image of the Invisible” and “Between The End And Where We Lie.”
Vheissu marked a turning point in Thrice’s career by redefining the band’s sound, exploring new sonic landscapes, and letting them explore more of their influences. I was struck, hearing the first four songs live, by how varied yet cohesive those redefinitions were—even if there’s a timeline I’d rather live in where “The Earth Will Shake” is the proper album closer and “Flags of Dawn” rightfully made the album. Whereas their prior (still quite excellent) records contained a homogeneity of sounds, Vheissu unfolded a landscape where anything could happen moving forward, where the thrashing “Hold Fast Hope” or the soaring arena rock of “Red Sky” are complementary forces and not contradictory sounds.
I recently wrote the first draft of a memoir entailing my battle with depression during my twenties. Its working title, as on-brand as I could be, was “A Decade Under the Influence.” But when Teppei began playing the famous piano intro to “For Miles,” many things seemed to click into place at once. For one, my memoir title changed to “For Miles,” and I think that’s going to stick. Singing along with over a thousand other people about scars and helping others heal, things that had happened along the way began to fall into place. Especially around my vocal experience with depression, even when mocked, and how it has brought others to me so that we can share in the healing process together.
Just a few steps behind me, other members of Chorus—some I’d known since 2006—sang the same songs. Fifteen years of community joining in the celebration of an album, which I came to realize, somewhat belatedly, is all about the power of hope. It’s hard to admit that this group of eleven songs, of which I know the lyrics like the back of my hand, took fifteen years to strike home.
“Music Box” is my favorite Thrice song, and after seeing them twelve other times, I finally saw it live. My voice cracked, tears ran down my face, and my cousin hugged my side, belting along with me. This crushing, heavy, soaring hope: “We are not alone.” Why wasn’t that song what I turned to in my depression? Why wasn’t this the album I turned to for comfort? Why was I turning to the one telling me to “take apart my head” or to tie “a millstone around my neck”?
If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already heard the album. Hopefully, you love it just as much as I do. We’ve come a long way since 2005—two wars, three presidents, four social media platforms, a financial crisis, and now a global pandemic—but Vheissu still holds up. It’s a timeless message of hope. It’s intensely personal and yet communal. It’s inherently religious yet also deeply human.
I’m so glad it exists. I’m so glad I’m still here. I’m so glad I got to experience celebrating fifteen more years of both.