Sound — 10
In September of 2006, Thrice announced to their fans that they had an idea for a new album, to follow up 2005's 'Vheissu' (which in this reviewer's opinion is one of the best albums ever made). It massively interested and excited Thrice fans across the world. Since 'The Artist In The Ambulance', Thrice have become a far more experimental band, as 'Vheissu' used far more varied instrumentation and brought in a whole new collection of influences to add to their hardcore and pop-punk centre. The concept was to write and record four EPs representing the four elements of nature, Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Each EP has a distinctive sound and lyrical theme. Despite all four discs being finished at around the same time, The Alchemy Index is being released in two parts. This release features the Fire and Water discs, and the Earth and Air discs will be released in April 2008. The texture shared on Fire's six tracks is one reminiscent of the band's older sounds, using massive riffing and combining it with gliding and layered melodies to create a hard-hitting but very memorable sound. This theme is applied to perfection in the opening salvo 'Firebreather', which is also arguably the most accessible song of the disc. What follows is where the experiment truly begins to show itself. Using an electronic beat to introduce a driving dissonant song is not something you see every day, but that is the nature of Thrice. Making the discs with next to no outside influence (the experiment was recorded in their own studios, and guitarist Teppei Teranishi engineered and mixed it), this music is made the way Thrice wants it, and there are a lot of unpredictable turns on Fire which may not suit the listener, however listen with an open mind and you will appreciate the band's artistic mettle. It's a powerhouse that isn't designed to, and thus doesn't, follow up the beauty of 'Vheissu', but songs like 'Backdraft' certainly put a big dent in Thrice material before that. After the sonically scalding (no pun intended) journey of Fire, what better way to cure it than Water? Many say that Fire includes the most familiar Thrice sound but honestly I make the link between Water and 'Vheissu' with ease. This one has a comforting, soft texture that you can immerse yourself in immediately. Funnily enough, the similarity between the music's texture and the feeling of immersing yourself in a body of water is very similar. Using mostly electronic (or muffled) percussion, every instrument is doused with effects that must have taken massive fine tuning to perfect. Every individual sound compliments it's surroundings and the vocal melodies in particular are truly beautiful on this disc. Despite the euphoric qualities of the vocals (the vocal ending to 'The Whaler' is one of the most incredible sections of music I've heard from Thrice), I feel the most interesting track on the Water disc is the instrumental track 'Night Diving'. At six minutes it is the longest song in the two volumes, and instrumentally it follows the story of a man who dived deep into the sea at night, who sees all kinds of amazing things on his journey. With that in mind the three movements of the track are very involving. I think that the juxtaposition of Fire and Water is very effective as the subtleties of Water are only brought to more attention after the very unsettling vibe of Fire. When you listen to 'The Flame Deluge' (which could easily be a Cult Of Luna or Isis song), then it's immediately followed by something as relaxing, but still involving as 'Digital Sea', there's a certain effect that these volumes have on you, and I love it.
Lyrics — 10
Dustin Kensrue's lyrics have been absolutely stellar for a long time. He's a very talented vocalist and his poetic and meaningful lyrics enhance the experience of listening to him that much more. Having also designed the artwork, the true meanings behind his words are more apparent, even though the linking themes of fire and water do help to an extent. Thankfully he has avoided creating my biggest fear for this project: corniness. The lyrics aren't just about the physical identity of the elements and I'm very glad because six songs of It's pretty wet would completely fail to live up to his masterful words on 'Vheissu'. Fire's lyrics mostly relate to rebellion in historical and religious contexts, and a need to break free from whatever constraints your superiors or opponents impose on you. In this way it makes the Fire disc even more connected to older Thrice material, as I begin to think of songs like 'Paper Tigers' and 'Between The End And Where We Lie' whilst I read. Water's lyrics are far more cryptic and the meanings are not as clear as on the Fire disc. This made me realise exactly how well crafted these discs are, as the 'in your face' value of the Fire disc is reflected in the lyrics, and the deeper thought provocation of Water is found in both the music and the lyrics. However, I think the most poetic and artistically stimulating lyrics are to be found in Water. One line in particular which caught my attention was Was there a time we looked around; and do we really even want to know what's going down? from 'Lost Continent', which the more I look at it seems to be a political comment pointing out the continuous mentality of the human race. As an extra point of interest for lyricists, the closing songs for Fire and Water ('The Flame Deluge' and 'Kings Of The Main' respectively) are actually sonnets written by Kensrue. If I'm honest I don't understand them at all, but I'm sure seasoned lyricists will. It's likely that I will continue to find new meanings well after this review is published but if you do buy the first instalment of The Alchemy Index I stress you read them yourself.
Overall Impression — 10
As an experiment, I was not expecting The Alchemy Index to beat Vheissu, and in all honesty it doesn't. However, this does not mean it cannot thoroughly entertain and involve me on many levels in the same way that that album did. You can enjoy tracks like 'The Messenger' and 'Burn The Fleet' on face value alone, and you can contemplate what Thrice's visions were for tracks like 'The Arsonist' or 'Open Water'. Each track has a quality which can be enjoyed by anyone that listens to it with an open mind, and for Thrice fans (or at least those who maintained interest after The Artist In The Ambulance) there are many levels to this work which can be appreciated and enjoyed to the max with as little or as much thought as you wish. This is a masterpiece and I hope you can all submerge yourselves with fire and water as they and I now have.