Thrice misses the mark in reinvention

Six years ago, a four-piece California band by the name of Thrice put itself on the map, establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with in the now-congested screamo/post-hardcore scene.

The debut of its initial EP “First Impressions” came in 1999, coinciding with a flurry of motion in the genre. By employing the at times eardrum-scarring screams of hardcore and borrowing the heart-wrenching poignant guitar riffs of the screamo genre, Thrice found itself soaring up the ladder to rock stardom.

In 2001, Thrice’s first full-length album, “Identity Crisis,” rocked Sub-City Records, drawing on the same addictive mix of hardcore and emo that made them stand out in 1999. Its 2002 sophomore effort “Illusion of Safety” was no different.

Thrice lost a few fans in 2003 when they jumped to Island Records and released “The Artist In The Ambulance,” a slightly watered-down digression from its earlier discs. “Artist” was a solid release that took a step back from hardcore and allowed vocalist Dustin Kensrue to establish himself as both a singer and a screamer. Some things have changed over the course of the four-year journey, but Thrice is still Thrice, the heads are still nodding, the pits are still chaotic, and the live shows are some of the most energetic I have ever seen.

Fast forward to 2005. On Oct. 18, Thrice released “Vhiessu,” an experimental concept album that does its best to break away from the hardcore staple and put Thrice on the map as an eclectic, smart rock act. That sounds like a noble aim, but after listening to “Vhiessu” repeatedly, I am getting the feeling the band missed the mark.

“Vhiessu” was inspired by “V,” a science fiction novel that revolves around the story of a distant future Earth where humans have been enslaved by a conquering alien race. The humans who have escaped and the humans who have been enslaved are separated by a large quasi-mystical gate. Humans who pass through to the free side cannot be re-enslaved. It sounds psychedelic, and the trippy nature of the book is reflected in some of the music.

The first song on the album, “Image Of The Invisible,” sticks close to what made Thrice famous – aggressive guitar riffs, call and response vocals, a catchy easily-chanted line that repeats throughout the song, and a pair of haunting, dramatic half-screamed notes to close out the song by Kensrue.

From there, the concept idea begins to bleed too heavily into the music. The second track, “Between The End and Where We Lie,” is infected with unnecessary doses of synthesizer and a strange bell-like effect on Teppei Teranishi’s guitar. The chorus still has the dramatic drive that pushes most Thrice songs into people’s heads, but the rest of the song is lacking. When you factor in lyrics like “If I could only find the door, then I could free myself and see the world outside,” you can see that the album comes eerily close to working as a soundtrack for the novel.

Thrice’s experimental march toward a cliff stops at track six when “Hold Fast Hope” opens up with Kensrue cutting loose with a raw, punishing howl. The burst of energy is accompanied by a collision of crash cymbals and power chords that would have been welcomed on any of Thrice’s past releases. From there, the song slows down into another one of the softer segments that Thrice employs throughout the album, only to explode again. This song exemplifies how a band should change its sound – slowly, gradually, seamlessly. This song is a bridge between the older harder-edged Thrice and the newer, relaxed, dramatic Thrice, and it’s one most people will find easy to cross.

Of the final five songs, only one other track blends Thrice’s two distinct sounds together as well as “Hold Fast Hope.” Track nine, “Of Dust and Nations,” plods along at a slower pace, but it seems to capture the epic, deeply emotional quality that Thrice spends this album searching for.

Despite my utter disdain for certain aspects of it, I don’t hate “Vhiessu.” Songs like “Of Dust and Nations” and “Hold Fast Hope” can work to slowly help old-school Thrice fans accept the changing of the tide and embrace the new music. However, pitfall tracks like “For Miles” and “Red Sky” will only serve to sever the ties between Thrice’s past and their future. Only time will tell. Thrice will most likely churn out a new album in the next year or two, and then will be famous for one of two things: selling out arenas, or selling out period.