In the early 2000’s, the post-hardcore scene was blooming. Coheed and Cambria, Thursday, Saosin, At the Drive In, and many others were releasing genre-defining records and building huge fan bases. Among these bands was Thrice – a 4 piece hailing from California, who had been slowly working their way up from the smallest of clubs since 1999’s Identity Crisis. By 2003, with the release of The Artist in the Ambulance, the band had built up a huge fanbase and was now signed to a major label, in the form of Island Records.
From Identity Crisis to The Artist in the Ambulance, Thrice had developed considerably. As songwriters they had grown to incorporate more mature themes into their music and lyrics, discussing politics, faith, and philosophy. And musically, they were now delivering pummeling drop tuned riffs that were markedly different from the loose, frenetic leads and lines from their earlier work. It was starting to become obvious that this band was the real deal, who cared more about chasing their muse and creating meaningful music than selling records.
This trend finally culminated in what was their biggest sonic leap yet in 2005, with the release of Vheissu. Vheissu is what happens when a band pushes their boundaries as far as they can go, delighting in the process of tearing them down and replacing them with wide open pastures.
So, perhaps ironically, the opening track is a complete misdirect. Image of the Invisible is the most pre-Vheissu sounding song on the album, mostly keeping in line with their previous post-hardcore sound, but scrubbing away most of the furious riffs that marked that style. This contrast and misdirect is part of what makes this such an amazing album, though. If not for that brief reminder, it would be hard to believe that this was the same band.
Vheissu reveals it’s true self with the second track, Between the End and Where We Lie. A moody track based around a fragile keyboard line, yet propelled and contrasted by Riley Breckinridge’s heavy drumming, it was the slowest song they’d recorded to that point. Drenched in reverb and sparse layers of guitar, it’s an introspective track that soothes in the verses and explodes in the choruses.
Those qualities set a precedent for the rest of the album, where songs like ‘The Earth Will Shake’, ‘Atlantic’, and ‘Red Sky’ find them toying with a newfound sense of dynamics and emotional push/pull. Here, Thrice’s writing is no longer riff-centric, rather it is based around varying keyboard, synthesizer, piano, and even music box lines (found on the aptly titled ‘Music Box’). While not completely relegated to the background, the electric guitar takes on much more of a supporting, chord-based role than a lead one for the majority of the album. This alone makes Vheissu an incredibly diverse album musically, with this range of new sounds allowing them to go in completely fresh directions.
It would be easy to say they were selling out by softening their sound and including this range of new sounds and textures, especially considering how heavy some of their earlier work could be. But that argument falls apart once you notice that, despite all the changes on the surface, this is still very much Thrice. Songs like Hold Fast Hope and Image of the Invisible still evoke shades of the punky, heavy band they were before, but now they’re filtered through the huge sound of a band like, say, Deftones. And their sense of emotion is still intact as well – songs like For Miles and Like Moths to Flames simmer anxiously, and then explode into twisted, angry pleas. Dustin Kensrue’s sense of lyricism is just as intelligent and creative as ever, and finds him mining new lyrical territory as well. The Earth Will Shake puts himself in the shoes of a prisoner on a chain gang, Of Dust and Nations ponders on materialism and knowing what you should truly value, and For Miles talks about recovering from emotional trauma and recognizing the hurt in others. Thrice made a concentrated effort to step out of their comfort zones, and by and large, it worked wonderfully.
From start to finish, Vheissu is a journey. In every sense of the word, it’s an ‘album’, meant to be heard from start to finish. It’s the type of listen that you can lose yourself inside of, creating its own little world without breaking character at any point. It’s an album characterized as much by ambience and texture as it is aggression and power, slipping easily between explosive codas and huge power chords; introspective synth lines and near-whispered vocals. Every song showcases something new for the band, even when they revisit familiar territory, and that’s what makes this such a worthwhile and fascinating record. Few bands ever have the courage to take such a bold leap away from the sound that made them famous, and even fewer manage to pull it off so well that it comes to define them. With Vheissu, Thrice put themselves ahead of the pack, making music far outside the scene that they were born in, and set them on a creative course that allowed them to try out many new sounds, instead of stagnating within one. Vheissu is an often overlooked album, but if you do stumble upon it, you’ll discover one of the very best albums written in the first decade of the new millenium.
Key Tracks: Red Sky, Of Dust and Nations, For Miles, Music Box