Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere [2016]

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In 2012, after over 13 years of relentless touring, writing, and recording, Thrice decided to hit that ever-infamous “hiatus” button. The grind of being in a band their size had worn them down over those years, and they needed time to spend with their families – the value of which had been made even more apparent after several members losing loved ones during their last album cycle. With that in mind, the band embarked on a “farewell” tour that dug deep through fan-selected favorites, culminating in a huge 33-song long final show in July 2012. After that, the band dispersed to their families and new projects: Dustin became a pastor, Teppei opened a leather crafts shop, Riley started a baseball-themed grindcore band, and Eddie put in time with Angels & Airwaves. But the break didn’t last long, and in the waning days of 2014, the band announced their intention to get back together. And in a little under two years, they’ve returned with their first album of new music since 2011’s Major/Minor.

To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Thrice essentially picking up where they left off with Major/Minor. The grungy, dirty rock sound they’ve had on that album and on Beggars before it is still firmly in place, but it seems like reconvening has also given them greater appreciation of where their music has come from in the past. One of the most obvious cues the band has picked back up are the larger, meatier guitar parts reminiscent of their Fire EP – “Death From Above” and “Blood on the Sand” both move with more power and weight than the band has shown in years, and while not quite as heavy, “Black Honey” and “The Window” pick up much of that EP’s dark and brooding undertones as well. “Hurricane” opens the album with a thick swirl of guitars and brooding atmosphere appropriate for the title, feeling as if it really could be buoyed on the winds of a storm. In fact, this record finds the band turning up the sludge and brood in every aspect, not just on the guitars – this thing is downright dirty sounding. Even in it’s most friendly and approachable moments, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and grit in the mix that doesn’t relent. Yet “Salt and Shadow” exists on that same album, a song with a gentle, heavenly atmosphere that would be able to slot itself perfectly on the band’s Air EP. But that’s about the only air and light that manages to work its way in both musically and lyrically.

Lyrically, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Dustin focusing much less on faith (as he had on more recent Thrice albums) and more on the social and political issues he first touched on with The Artist in the Ambulance. “Blood on the Sand” is a take down of the frightened apathy that causes us to build walls to keep out our fellow man instead of making an attempt at connection, and “Death From Above” tackles our willingness to bomb those same people from afar without ever putting a name or face to them. “Whistleblower” is an obviously pro-Snowden song, celebrating the individuals who risk their freedom and lives to enlighten the rest of the world to a massive wrongdoing, and “Black Honey” focuses on our often blind conquest to take the things we need without considering how the blow-back might affect us. It’s refreshing to hear Dustin have something to get angry about again, because it helps lend power to both the music and his own vocal delivery. Plus, even though some of the lyrics here suffer from being very on-the-nose, it’s brave for a band of their size to deliver a comeback album with lyrics that could potentially polarize old and new fans alike.

But for all the base-touching they do on this album, it feels like they’ve forgotten to bring anything fresh to the table. As a longtime fan you might be happy to hear those flourishes from throughout their discography, and as a new fan, they might even seem unique to you. But it’s disappointing that after five years apart – in such vastly different bands and even parts of the country – that they haven’t found one new thing to bring to the mix. In fact, a handful of tracks find the band veering dangerously close to rock cliché instead: “Wake Up” featuring a tired cock rock-esque chorus that settles for repeating the song’s title in place of any sort of lyricism, and “Stay With Me” apes U2’s worst arena rock tendencies and mixes them with a dash of sludgy guitars to no effect. At its worst, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere ironically finds the band sloughing off some of their character and flair in an attempt to be both radio-friendly and to pay homage to their previous sonic explorations.

Sadly, this album ends up being very much a mixed bag. There are flashes of the band’s former glories littered in almost every track, but they’re also tempered by some of the band’s blandest moments ever put to tape. It’s not a bad album in any sense of the word, but after five years apart and plenty of exploration for each one of their members, it’s a shame that To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Thrice simply mining old territory and watering down the rest. Perhaps this is just the band’s way of getting back to ground, consolidating the parts of the band they loved the most as a springboard for whatever comes next. Or perhaps middle age and family life has dulled their fire to prove themselves and take huge risks. And perhaps it’s too easy to compare this album to the rest of the band’s towering discography, because if this were any other band, it might be something fairly special. But in the end, they’ve simply put out an okay album after so many great ones. It happens.

Key Tracks: Hurricane, Blood on the Sand, The Long Defeat, Death From Above

SikTh and Refused are back!

It’s been a good week for new music from old bands. Yesterday, hardcore punk legends Refused announced that they were not, in fact, fucking dead, and were actually releasing a new album titled Freedom, in June. They were also kind enough to drop the first track from it, titled “Elektra”, which was co-produced with famous Swedish producer Shellback (which to me is a little odd, considering the fact that the rest of his resume is studded with huge popstars…but the song is just fucking good), as well as a video for the track. Besides the new music, they will be touring with (coincidentally or not), another reformed heavy cult band, who you may know by the name of Faith No More, and those dates can be found here.

Refused weren’t the only big comeback this week, though. British math-metallers SikTh, hailed as one of the original forerunners of ‘djent’, way before that was even a thing, have announced that they will be recording a new EP (their first new material since 2006’s Death of a Dead Day), as well as running through a short five-date trek through the UK. On the down-side, there’s no convenient link to a new song from these guys like Refused, so I’ll have to deny you the instant gratification this time. But it will be here soon enough, and you can finally be assured that there will be new music from this classic heavy, schizophrenic metal band.

So, are you glad to have both of these bands back? Or should they have stayed dead and buried? What’s your take?

Thrice Post Cryptic ‘Thrice 2015’ Image

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Remember Thrice? That post-hardcore band that put out the landmark albums The Illusion of Safety and The Artist in the Ambulance before morphing into the genre’s answer to Radiohead, releasing the genre-bending Vheissu and The Alchemy Index? Well, in 2012, they announced their intentions to do a farewell tour, and after completing it, they disappeared into that infamous purgatory known as the ‘hiatus’.

Well, it looks like they’re gearing up to put an end to that hiatus and reform in 2015, with the above image being posted on their website this morning. The background appears to be a stage of some sort, or possibly a studio, but either way it’s great news. The hopes of Thrice ever reuniting seemed to grow slimmer with each passing month, with it’s members splitting off into new groups (Riley to baseball-inspired grindcore band Puig Destroyer, Eddie to Tom DeLonge’s alt rock outfit Angels and Airwaves), and in Dustin’s case, into a almost-but-not-quite religious cult in the form of embattled Mars Hill Church. With Eddie abandoning Angels and Airwaves, and Dustin coming to his senses and leaving the sinking ship of Mars Hill, it seems enough of the pieces have come back together to lead to this moment.

Dustin said in his AMA on Reddit back in March, that a tour was “very very likely” and that he “hoped for and suspected” a recording of some kind as well. Whatever their intentions, the fact that they’re restarting the Thrice machine is great news, and I can’t wait for what they do next.

Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (2014)

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It seems like nostalgia has been overpowering modern culture lately. Ten year old movies are suddenly getting sequels greenlit, Tumblr expounds upon the joys of the original Pokemon series, and huge bands are reuniting to cash in for another round at the till.

You could say Death From Above 1979 is a product of this environment – in 2004, they released the massive You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, toured for a year, and then just…ended. And now that they’re back after so long, it would be easy to poke fun at these guys, now in their mid-30s, trying to recapture the fire that made their debut record so excellent.

It was no easy feat, but I think they’ve done it. Instead of just jumping into a studio to make a quick record to bolster their bank accounts, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler first took DFA1979 around the world, touring the old material and road testing the new. This allowed them to genuinely get back in touch with what the band was and is supposed to be, and the result of this hard work is The Physical World.

For the most part, the sound of the band is largely unchanged from 2004. Keeler’s unique bass playing still anchors these songs with monster riffs and thick distortion, and Grainger’s drums lock in with him perfectly. The only true difference here is the layer of sheen and polish that You’re A Woman lacked, provided to them by their choice to work with producer Dave Sardy. On top of that, the band’s sense of songwriting and melody is much stronger as well, so naturally this record comes off as sounding ‘poppier’ than You’re A Woman.

Sheen and hooks don’t mean DFA1979 have lost their edge, though. Raw drums and noisy bass abound, and age hasn’t slowed down their tempo one bit. ‘Cheap Talk’ opens up the album with frenetic hi-hat work and a sleazy bass line, ‘Government Trash’ descends into near metal drumming, and ‘Gemini’ opens with crazy bends and punishing low notes. Like their debut, The Physical World is also a short and sweet rock n’ roll album. At only a little over 30 minutes in length, it flies by, fueled on sheer groove and energy alone. It’s a record that easily lends itself to back-to-back plays, and doesn’t require anything of the listener except a willingness to go along with it.

Lyrically, it seems like Grainger has more or less moved on from focusing solely on girls. You’re A Woman was powered by youthful romantic troubles, sort of like an Adele album if she had any balls. While there’s still girl songs like the excellent slow groove of ‘White is Red’, Grainger also tackles a range of topics. From the insanity of the internet connecting us to everything 24/7 (‘Always On’), never being satisfied with what you have and needing more (‘Trainwreck 1979’), to government censorship and policing on ‘Government Trash’, The Physical World is much more varied and wordly.

What The Physical World gives us is the follow up to You’re A Woman we should have gotten almost a decade ago. DFA1979 picks up almost exactly where they left off, which should be strange given how long it’s been. But it just works so damn well, and for that it’s forgivable that what they’ve created feels like a time capsule from 2004. You could criticize them for retreading old ground, but really – why bother? It may have taken a decade, but DFA1979 have finally delivered on the promise they once held, and few reunions manage to carry the same spirit the band once had like this one does. Through and through, The Physical World is just a great fucking rock record.

Key Tracks: Cheap Talk, Trainwreck 1979, The Physical World

Chris Cornell Announces Soundgarden Reunion

With the start of the New Year, Soundgarden is also getting a fresh start in the 21st Century. Last night, a Soundgarden reunion was announced on Chris Cornell’s Twitter and Myspace accounts, with a link to http://www.soundgardenworld.com, the band’s (first?) official website.  For fans signing up for their mailing list, you’ll be treated to the music video for “Get on the Snake”,  a track from 1989’s Louder Than Love. As of yet, there are no solid plans regarding touring or the recording of a new album, but information should be expected in the coming weeks and months.

But is this reunion all good? Ever since Chris Cornell’s third solo album, Scream, failed to reach critical and commercial acclaim, rumors have been swirling around the internet about a possible Soundgarden reunion.  This writer asks the question, is Cornell doing this for the money? He has always been the missing link in a full-scale reunion, this being proven when the band reunited with Tad Doyle on vocals back in March 2009. Now that Scream has been met with lackluster sales and critical backlash, it seems a little too coincidental that he is suddenly getting back with his old bandmates.

Another point of contention is the strength of Cornell’s voice. Even though it has recovered a fair bit from his Audioslave days, there’s still the question of whether or not he can reach the stratospheric high notes he was famous for in Soundgarden. Judging from his recent solo performances, it sounds like he has a good shot at replicating most of the songs, but time shall tell.

Despite my criticism, I’m as big a Soundgarden fan as the next guy, and I really hope I’m proven wrong in my skepticism. Here’s to 2010 being the year of Soundgarden!