The Alchemy Index, Vols. 3 & 4: Air & Earth review by Thrice

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  • Released: Apr 15, 2008
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.5 (92 votes)
Thrice: The Alchemy Index, Vols. 3 & 4: Air & Earth

Sound — 9
The second installment of The Alchemy Index is Thrice's continuation of their 'classical elements through music' concept: four EPs comprised of six songs, each representing one of the classical elements. The first two EPs, Fire & Water were released last year (and received a perfect 10/10 from this reviewer), and now we have the second release, containing the Air & Earth EPs. As with Fire & Water, the EPs have very distinctive sounds relating to the element it represents. Earth has a bare-bones, organic sound using almost entirely acoustic instruments. Air is a little more ambiguous, with some drifting post-rock sounds, little acoustic numbers and some more up-tempo rock. In any case, once again the band have absolutely nailed the sonic theme for each element. The atmosphere of each track works perfectly with what we connect with air, or earth (though 'A Song For Milly Michaelson', whilst being very connected to Air lyrically, sounds more earthy than the others). It's a very impressive feat for the band to write six pieces that are all linked together tightly while retaining their identity as their own songs, and good ones at that. The voice of Dustin Kensrue takes the limelight for most of these songs with strong vocal melodies and his own absolutely fantastic voice. However, a lot of songs (particularly on the Earth disc) are kept afloat almost entirely by his vocals, with very little to be heard from drummer Riley Breckenridge or, to a lesser extent his brother Eddie on bass. While I'm sure their input on the songs is as frequent as it has always been, there is not an awful lot of recorded performance from Riley that does too much for the songs. In fact, only five of the twelve songs feature percussion parts that function as anything more than a simple repeated backing to the guitars and vocals. That said, his performances are all very well done, especially 'The Sky Is Falling', which he really brings to life. One interesting inclusion on the Earth disc is a cover of the now-defunct post-hardcore act Frodus. With an idea like this, crafting music into elemental themes, a cover is not exactly the easiest way of achieving it, but Thrice have really found something inside that song and changed it to fit perfectly with their sound on Earth (aside from the suspiciously out of tune guitars) and shows that Thrice really can manipulate sounds and music to form whatever texture they want it to form. With Air & Earth the sounds of Thrice's earlier albums such as The Artist In The Ambulance and The Illusion Of Safety is truly gone. There are only a couple of very short instances of distorted guitars, with the album using mostly acoustic guitars and clean electric guitars. In fact, there are quite a few other instruments used throughout, from classical string instruments to bell chimes to sampled beats. However, Air & Earth are very much about the guitars and vocals, and as disappointing as it is to hear less of Thrice playing together as a full rock band, the composition and execution of these songs is absolutely great.

Lyrics — 10
Dustin Kensrue is a genius when it comes to writing lyrics. All of the songs here, as with Fire & Water, are about quite separate things, but are all linked together by an underlying connection with the respective element. The links are actually quite subtle and clever, with air and earth representing different things to the different people described in the lyrics. For example, in 'Come All You Weary' the earth is a thing which brings mankind together and establishes our solidarity with each other, whereas in 'Digging My Own Grave', the earth represents the inevitable death of a man living the dirty life, it represents his fear of his lifestyle being the end of him, and his reluctance at choosing that path. There are many different situations tied together by simple things like air and earth, from the American's war on terror, to a father's wish for his son's freedom to a simple 'apprentice surpasses the mentor' story. The final tracks from each EP have lyrics that personify the element and are written about humanity through their eyes. These songs, 'Silver Wings' and 'Child Of Dust' are both absolutely beautifully written, with a very sophisticated style and messages that ring true. The final two lines of all four of these ending songs use the same melody and this really ties together each disc in a very moving way. Of course, the lyrics are open to interpretation, but the meanings behind a lot of the songs became apparent to me fairly quickly, whilst still retaining their deeply poetic merit. This is what makes Kensrue such an involving lyricist, he describes situations on personal levels, connects with his audience on a personal level and makes them think about things from an introverted perspective to an all-encompassing perspective.

Overall Impression — 10
Simply from a gut-feeling musical standpoint, Air & Earth are not as good as Fire & Water, as they do not have the stark contrast that Fire and Water had and some of the songs just aren't that exciting ('The Lion And The Wolf'). That isn't to say that it is really a disappointment, as songs like 'Broken Lungs' and 'Silver Wings' are some of the best Thrice have ever written, and considering what these discs represent in the band's creative process, they have easily surpassed anyone's expectations of what they could do. Air, Earth, Fire and Water are all incredible achievements that Thrice should be proud of, as the way they have crafted their music compliments what they were trying to do with it in every way. The beautiful harmony between the harsh, scathing bite of Fire, the subtly sinister ambience of Water, the simple elegance of Air and the suppressed grandeur of Earth all culminate into a truly successful experiment for Thrice. What the next Thrice album will sound like is anybody's guess, but the Alchemy Index is testimony to the fact that the band can go into completely uncharted territory yet still create positively coherent, stimulating and consistently amazing music.

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

    All are absolutely great, but I'd have to say from best to slightly less epic would be: Air Fire Water Earth Daedalus = WIN
    mr. riff wrote: Air and earth are amazing, but they didn't impress me as much as Fire and water. Daedalus has got to be the best song I've heard in a while. I'm wondering if anyone else has a misprint on their Earth disc like I have. Mine says its Vol. V.
    Mine says IV. Keep hold of that, it could be worth something in 10 yeas. Some people go mental for misprints etc.
    Corey Taylor
    fire air water earth im still in love with the old thrice, but i do like their new stuff. 'Broken lungs' is my favorite song on this album
    mr. riff
    Air and earth are amazing, but they didn't impress me as much as Fire and water. Daedalus has got to be the best song I've heard in a while. I'm wondering if anyone else has a misprint on their Earth disc like I have. Mine says its Vol. V.
    mr. riff wrote: I'm wondering if anyone else has a misprint on their Earth disc like I have. Mine says its Vol. V.
    I can't see one on mine anywhere
    Does anyone else think both EP's lyrics are ridiculously sad and depressing? I haven't caught a lot of the lyrics, and haven't gotten the album yet, but daedalus is such a sad song, and the last song of four EPs is a depiction of dying. I thought that that idea was interesting though, and kind of cool.
    I absolutely love Thrice. These two EPs have stolen me away. I really liked the before but now I just love them.
    Awesome Man
    Cheesepuff wrote: Thrice = Music.
    I couldn't have said it better myself, Thrice pretty much rules and unfortunately I have not yet bought either of the Alchemy Index albums, though I really want to.
    I loved air and earth was okay but its the worse out of the 4 but still a great cd. you got to be in the mood for it
    i can name a list of favorites because they all bring something different to the table and i would not like to put one greater than the other, together they form an amazing compilation of music, something you shouldnt forget, each piece is a part of the whole
    Oh to add to the misprints mine has IV on the front and on the back for the song lists it says V. I just thought it was cause of the way it was suppose to look! cause on my fire side on the first installment i can't read the song titles cause its rubbed off..well it looks like that?
    im a huge fan of thrice but i wasn't too impressed with Vol 1 and 2... i guess i kinda miss the old punk stuff but the lyrics are fantastic as always.
    These 4 albums need only 5 words to describe them. Absolutely stunning, groundbreaking, and breathtaking That's all that I really have to say.
    bought it yesterday,digging my own gerave come all you weary and as the crow flies are brilliant as with nearly all the songs on this album. overall together parts 1-4 are a hhuge success although i defanitly like air and earth more.
    Thrice IS the GREATEST BAND out today - PERIOD. I've been saying it since VHIESSU. Dustin's lyrics are as good as it gets. Their musical evolution together is simply amazing. But FIRE is the best disc hands down. It's heavier than anything they have done in the past (and thats saying alot), but still new/different. Water, Air, & Earth are all tied for second. Better recogzine.
    agreed. this album is incredible, as are Dustin's lyrics, as always. I tabbed out Daedalus, someone gave it 1 star, can somebody check it out for me? It sounded near perfect when i played it, if you find that it is okay, please rate higher, or if it's not, let me know the problem, thanks
    Amazing! I think what trully defines a band as great is the ability to evolve and grow into diffrent directions and not just put out albums that sound the same as previous ones. Just like say Radiohead, with Thrice you can see from Album to Album how they just change end explore diffrent styles of music and do it ridiculously well. Not to mention the fact that all the instruments heard on the album are played by Thrice. The only additional musicians they use are vocalist. Anyways I just cant wait to see what they do next!! Maybe for their next album they will start composing clasical music!!
    earth water air fire But all of them are phonomenal. Experimental in ways that thrice has necer gone and they had the guts to totally reinvent their classic style. and great live sets from the new album
    Kosh H
    I loved the Fire and Water albums but Air and Earth are excellent as well.Thrice's past albums are still some of my favorites,but The Alchemy Index vol. 1-4 are great and are certainly worth buying. i give the alchemy index 10 of 10!
    Water earth fire air for sure this album is great, not as greatt as F&W but it was meant to be the way it came out. Thrice took their time and delivered 2007's best album (IMO), And they can do it again with A&E
    Air Water Fire Earth. air is awesome from the first notes to the last. water is nice my fav song is 'night diving' strangely. fire is consistant and i lke the old thrice sound presented a little earth is my least favorite but still great. 2nd fav song is come all you weary
    There's absolutely nothing in the review that I disagree with. Air to me was a bit of a let down initially, but it's growing on me now. It's pretty damn hard for me to rank each disc, but I think that water just about wins it.
    i love all the music this band has ever created. not one disc is better than the other in my opinion.
    Mr Pringle
    earth is so ****ing bad, i absolutely hated listening to it. I couldn't believes my ears. I understand the concept of it but earth as a concept on paper doesn't suit my ears.
    Mr Pringle wrote: earth is so ****ing bad, i absolutely hated listening to it. I couldn't believes my ears. I understand the concept of it but earth as a concept on paper doesn't suit my ears.
    I disagree. In fact, Earth is my favorite of the four, Air being a close second. Then water, then fire.
    I just recently got this album and I completely agree with your review. Great stuff.
    Go Thrice!! I havent heard this album since it just came out but i hear good things already, one thing is for sure the lyrics are great
    I hate how UG put a quote up that made it seem like a bad review- and yet you gave it all 9's and 10's.
    Side Effect
    Love this album. I don't really know what two elements I like more. Both are masterpieces though and don't even need to be compared. Thrice is definitely a band that will be remembered for years after their passing and have changed music for the better.
    Awesome review. I always thought that air and earth were always the weaker of the elements anyway and after hearing a song or 2 on Thrice's myspace thought that even they had struggled to find common ground within these 2 themes. You say that Fire & Water worked better, I don't actually completly agree, fire and water were always going to be hugely different as they are constantly conflicting with each other where as air and earth are more sat hand in hand, i think in terms of an album[2 albums as opposed to 4 eps] this sits and fits alot better than the last one. That said, it would be daft to compare them beyond the concept. If you like Earth, maybe you should check out Dustins solo stuff!
    wow, i love the amount of artistic freedom Vagrant allowed these guys. good thing they hopped off island. in my opinion, best to (tentatively, 'worst,' though its all great) #1 Water #2 Air #3 Fire #4 Earth (though fire was GREAT! glad to hear they havent completely killed their old sound, i'm just more a fan of melodic, mellow stuff)
    StraylightRun_X wrote: wow, i love the amount of artistic freedom Vagrant allowed these guys. good thing they hopped off island. in my opinion, best to (tentatively, 'worst,' though its all great) #1 Water #2 Air #3 Fire #4 Earth (though fire was GREAT! glad to hear they havent completely killed their old sound, i'm just more a fan of melodic, mellow stuff)
    Yeah actually they had all the music recorded before they signed with Vagrant. Vagrant didn't even ask to hear the music and signed them. personally i like these two discs more than Fire or Water because they're both way different. The air disc is great, it really goes all over and the earth disc is so different from anything they've ever done. I like them all i guess.
    joe295159 wrote: wow that's actually good. 9.7 is a good rating imo
    It's not good in your opinion, it's good full stop.
    Thrice have simply achieved something immense. The Alchemy Index as a whole is the most beautiful work I have heard to date. I love thrice from identity crisis all the way through to the alchemy index. They are one of the most amazing and ground-shaking bands to date. I can only hope that they will continue to bless us with their musical presence.
    I'm a little surprised Earth isn't getting more props, good idea to make it all acoustic, I love the song Moving Mountains, very much in the style of Dustin Kensrue's solo stuff.
    Air Water Fire Earth They are all amazing... its really hard to pick an order, with the exception of Air being #1... Broken Lungs, and A Song for Milly Michaelson, are 2 of my favorite songs