Thrice- The Alchemy Index Vol. 1 and 2


From the years 490 to 430 BC, Empedocles walked the earth as one of the smartest men alive and stands today as one of the most important philosophers of all time. Where Pythagoras experimented with right triangles and tuning stringed instruments by fifths, and Democritus proposed a basic template for what today scientists call the atom, Empedocles thought further. Centuries before anyone else, he realized that light travels at a finite speed, invented the concepts of rhetoric, and created a dramatic image of himself inspiring fables and myths based solely on his death. Despite predicting many ideas that turned out true, his most famous contribution to philosophical society is a false theory- the elements of fire, water, earth, and wind. Delivered in epic poem, he presented his formal postulation with On Nature. While not all of the poem survived through time, enough remains to gather some of his most profound ideas. The bulk of his theory stated that all matter is composed of his four elements, a false hypothesis; he extended his argument to more metaphorical applications of his theory. For these endless possibilities, the four elements, now known as the “classical elements,” artists continue to have their own say on the intriguing subject--the latest, Thrice’s Alchemy Index.

Years after Empedocles’ death, Plato and Aristotle created a fifth element, known as either Aether, Idea, or Quintessence. While it physically represents everything outside of the terrestrial atmosphere, it held a much more metaphorical meaning as all that exists outside the material world. Thought, math, and music all fall under the category of Aether. Before looking at The Alchemy Index in-depth, it is important to realize that as Aether surrounds the planet, the overall concept surrounds these two (eventually four) EPs, and they complement each other as much as they contrast each other. The aggression of Fire clashes with the calm tranquility of Water, yet they both follow similar flow and structure. In terms of general atmosphere, both EPs climax at the final song where Dustin Kensrue composes traditional English sonnets for lyrics. “The Flame Deluge,” easily the most brutal, cathartic song of Thrice’s career, connects the two EPs simply with its title, where deluge means flood. Musically, it falls from its incredible climax into a hazy, effect-laden atmosphere that brings in aspects that take prominence in the Water EP. These subtle tie-ins from section to section draw the entire project together, lessening the inevitable abrupt change from fire to water.

Still, Thrice backs up the massive concept with micromanagement inside of their songs, as they obviously spent as much time refining the smaller details as they did drawing out the overall idea. The Fire EP (Volume I) fittingly opens the entire project as the first section of the first release, being the most typical Thrice style. Regardless, Thrice recognized this project as an attempt to push all of their influences to new limits, and even the post-hardcore/metal sound receives some surgical work, albeit minor. “The Messenger” mixes their core sound with electronic drums for the shortest song on the release, while “Backdraft” grows the most organically, evolving from drones, a drum beat, and a dissonant acoustic guitar melody to a huge chorus that remains catchy yet off-kilter and mathy at the same time. Fire continues along the lines of Vheissu’s “Hold Fast Hope” and “Like Moths to Flame”- very riff oriented with wacky time signatures - yet despite the heaviness, the material maintains a semblance of melody and musicality. “Burn the Fleet” brings some much-needed variety with a less complex and more tuneful style. Although its progression from verse to chorus is predictable, it fits perfectly and sounds completely different from the rest of the Fire section. The anthemic vocals “Burn the fleet/We’ll be heroes or ghosts/But we’ll never be turned around” cause one of the most memorable moments of the EP. From the aggressive “Firebreather” to the crushing “The Flame Deluge”, Fire transitions Thrice’s listeners from the old material to the new by keeping their core sound and giving previews for the sounds upon which Water expands.

Volume II (Water) completely inverts the formula of Volume I as electronica takes, making guitar secondary, and it reaps incredible rewards for the band. Songs like “Atlantic” timidly walked in this direction, but Water traverses into the land of Radiohead’s Kid A bravely and confidently. Creating the perfect aquatic atmosphere, the EP experiments with more electronic drums, full-song instrumentals, and vocal effects. Digital Sea” starts off as probably the safest song on the record, a typical electronica song with a catchy chorus. As Dustin sings, “I’m drowning in a digital sea”, the volume rises and engulfs his vocals dramatically, making the mix of lyrical and musical concept come together. This musical style fully develops in “The Whaler”, which contains a more complex and intricate beat pattern and melody. It creates arguably the best section on the album when the song releases all the tension built up by exploding (imploding?) into beautiful vocal harmonies. The bass voice descends while every other voice stays on its first note, ranging from a male falsetto to a regular tenor range. On “Lost Continent” and “Night Driving”, the guitars make a reappearance in secondary roles. The former puts the guitars in a post rock setting, with screaming high notes and quick picking, while the latter uses guitar as climatic effect for the main melody of the song. The only instrumental on the entire EP, “Night Driving” brings the variety to the Water EP. The entire volume’s atmospheric qualities predict great things to come from the next release, proving that Thrice can do more than just post-hardcore.

With the first release of the Alchemy Index, Thrice personifies and transforms the classical elements into a work of art, proving the true capabilities of music and technology. Moreover, the band pushed themselves to their limits, using the project as not only an artistic release but also a catalyst through which they bettered themselves as musicians. The album raises the bar even higher for their releases while leaving endless possibilities for the rest of their career. For now, they seem as dedicated to the elements as Empedocles himself.

To the elements it came from
Everything will return.
Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
Heat to fire,
Breath to air.


Between the Buried and Me- Interview

Between the Buried and Me is quite possibly the best band on Victory Records with their new record Colors.  They are pushing their own limits with their unique blend of all kinds of metal by adding more and more sounds.  On Colors, they bring in bluegrass, accordians, and a synth-led section that Muse would enjoy.  I talked to bass player Dan Briggs about the recording process of Colors and how they conceived such a zany mix of so many different genres.  

Hey Dan, just wanted to say that I really love the album, definitely been enjoying it a lot especially for such a non-metal fan I am.

-We’re not really metal guys either. A lot of our influence is very un-metal. Metal is a very natural thing for us, it’s something we started from and grew out of, kind of like a comfy spot, but our big thing will always be progressing and adding…those elements of music that we do listen to on a daily basis. We’re really passionate about it.

What were some of those influences?

-It’s probably pretty obvious on the album that we’re pretty influenced by a lot of progressive rock/metal. Listening to it, especially when we really started getting into the conceptual vibe of the music, musically there’s a lot of themes. We wrote the first song, “Ants of the Sky”, placed in the middle of the album and we kept going to the end of the album. So when we finished the first song we were like “we’re going to do this one-piece, one big idea.” Once we did that, we started listening to my favorite records… and being aware and understanding how they’ll play something and you’ll hear it again a half hour later and it really comes full circle, it’s crazy. Those are some of the musical moments that we really get excited about and we’re very anxious to put in our ideas.

As you said, Colors flows like one big idea, so when you were writing the album did it flow just as well or did you have to go back and write in those transitions?

-Well, we finished “Ants of the Sky”, and we knew it was going to end on a big open chord so we decided to make it a big major chord. We’ve never done a big, rock major keyed section; it’s kind of like a heavy metal Rush. Then we finished that song and started thinking about the end… It was a lot of just knowing how a song was going to end and building up to that or knowing how a song ended, going from there, and starting the next song. We really had an idea all the time. After we wrote the second half of the record… we wrote “Informal Gluttony” which is the third track on the CD, which was really cool because you can see how that song ended and we went into “Sun of Nothing.” Then we wrote “Foam Born”, the first track so we had a good solid start to the album and we finished “Sun of Nothing” so it would go into “Ants of the Sky and it really came full circle.

Looking back on Alaska and then going to Colors, the production certainly took a step up. How did that change occur?

-It’s one of those mysteries, you know? We worked with Jamie [King] on Alaska and someone else mixed it. I think that took away from a lot of the good sound we had going on Alaska, we weren’t very excited with how that turned out and we knew that wasn’t Jamie’s fault. We did the covers record with him and that was better, but that was such a quick process – we recorded and mixed it all in three weeks. Something about Colors, we were doing it at the right time. Jamie was just getting his new studio and we were the first band he recorded there. We were really nervous because it was like “oh man, what kind of sound are we going to get?” but…miraculously on the first day of setting up the drums and everything we recorded the first song “Foam Born.” The first day of recording is usually pretty painstaking with six or seven hours of tuning drums, trying out different mics, but we just nailed and we were like, “Wow guys that sounds good!” All along the way it sounded good.

Where was the studio?

-It was actually about five minutes from where we practice at our drummer’s house [Blake Richardson] in Salem, NC. That was pretty great because even before we went in to record we went over there with some demos, sat around, and listened to them… Going to the studio every day was no big deal because we just camped out at Blake’s house. All the other albums besides The Silent Circus were recorded in Jamie’s old studio that was basically in his parent’s basement/garage. There were all these leaky pipes and it smelled like cat pee…*laughter*… It was terrible! So this was like luxury heaven with a band room and nice carpet, a vocal booth, it was amazing!

You talked about having a big idea throughout the entire album, what exactly was that idea? Did it have to do with the title Colors?

-Well, Colors came from the song “White Walls.” I remember the first time we got a chance to look at Tommy’s lyrics about a week before we went into the studio. He was in Louisiana when we started to write, so we basically wrote as a four piece and sent him ideas so he could write at home, but we hadn’t heard one vocal line or melody or anything until we recorded them. It was kind of scary, I mean, we trusted him, but I think we were all just excited to hear them. “White Walls” is a song all about our experiences [over the summer]…we had 20 minute shows all summer; we were playing three songs a show and we were bored, and we had to get out of there and do something soon. We had that attitude all throughout the writing of Colors so we felt like it was only fitting to base the title off of that song. Colors is the idea of coming into a record with a blank canvas. That’s how we looked at it, we’re starting fresh. Strapped in with a bad attitude…and starting really fresh with everything laid out. You get into Colors and it’s reminiscent of painting the white walls.

While you didn’t hear the lyrics while you were writing the songs, did Tommy’s lyrics add to the meaning of the songs for the rest of the band or is that just his thing?

-Some of them actually got me upset because, well, there are two songs that stick out on the album- “Sun of Nothing” and “Prequel to the Sequel”- where the idea behind the lyrics are out of control. They’re so cool and such good stories and after reading them it was like, “Aww man if we had known about these we could have made these full, ridiculous stories out of one of these two songs!” So next time around I think we’ll see what kind of mindset we’re in and really process things, but after writing a record like Colors, I can’t see us stopping anytime soon. You look at the early Genesis records, [Pink Floyd’s] Animals and The Wall… and they’re putting out records that feel like records, so that’s something we want to get better at… I mean 65 minutes on some records is way too long, like two or three songs too many, but I think Colors is a good listen. I’m still not bored with it. I know we haven’t played the songs live yet but I’m listening to it and we’re rehearsing it. I’m always excited about everything. I hope it translates that way.

Do you guys have a live show planned for Colors? Will you play it straight through or do you have different ideas?

-We’ve got some ideas and some surprises for the tour we’re about to go on in three weeks. It’s good; I think people will be surprised. We’ve played a lot of sets on the Alaska tour but what we have planned is definitely anything but. I think it’s going to be a nice tribute to everyone who’s been around for a while and has been waiting for Between the Buried and Me to do nice long set. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really excited about it. So that question, we’ll leave it as a surprise.

You’re touring with HORSE the Band right?

-Yeah we’re going out with three of our good friends and bands, we’re really excited. We’ve been trying to do a full US tour with Animosity for a while and we’re glad it worked out this time. We just got off a two week tour with The End and they’re phenomenal musicians and people. HORSE the Band, I mean, we love those dudes and they’ll make every night out of control. I can’t wait.

Do you have any favorite venues you’ve played so far?

-Well the last time we played the Starlite Ballroom in Philadelphia, it was out of control. It’s a weird place; there were like 1100 people there and it was one of the biggest Atlantic shows we’ve ever played. That was pretty awesome. The TLA in Philadelphia is a favorite of ours, the Masquerade in Atlanta is a fuckin’ ages old venue but I think the shows there have been so good there that it’s become a favorite of ours. There’s a place in Pittsburgh called Mr. Smalls that we haven’t played in a while, but it’s probably the favorite of the band. It’s a nice stage, an old church that they renovated. They have a separate house attached to the church that is now a house for all the bands with kickass food. We’ve just got our hair wet.

The response to Colors thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, but how do you think the fans who haven’t heard it will respond to the album?

-I would think they would be excited… it’s really more of the best parts of Between the Buried and Me taken to another level. We really went over the top writing it and we had a lot of fun, so I think a fan who gets our attitude and what we’re about is really going to like this record.

The video and art interpretations for the album have been going up during this week. How do you feel about them?

-That was a cool idea that Victory had to get some hype behind the album, and we’re seeing them as everyone else is seeing them. It’s definitely a cool idea and there’s some cool footage. I think it would have been awesome if we could’ve really taken some time and put together some really kickass visuals for the record but it’s going to be nice by the end of the week. It’ll be a good way for everyone to be able to hear the album.

Have you seen any of the fan-submitted interpretations?

-No, I don’t know how that’s going to work but it would be really cool if someone who is really into film or art is passionate about doing something and ends up doing something really cool I think that would be awesome. We were talking to Victory about the record, telling them that there are three songs over ten minutes long and almost everything is over five minutes and we don’t want to do…a cheesy video for this or do a stupid edit of one of the songs. We’re not that type of band. You really can’t push this record like that anymore. So they had the idea that it would be cool to have a fan do something for you guys for the whole record.

So I assume that Victory received the album really well?

-It’s not like anything they’ve ever put out. You look at their “rock” center and it’s nothing like that. Yesterday [September 4] there was something like 15,000 hits on the trailer and it totally crashed multiple servers. They were so excited; they said Aiden hadn’t gotten that many hits. That was kind of cool to hear, and it’s nice to see that they’re excited about it especially for how out there and different it is. I think part of it might be that they’re realizing our contract is up after one more release and we’re looking towards the future. Maybe they’re trying really hard to keep us. They’re doing a really good job pushing it and I’m really excited. It’ll be cool when it comes out and we’ll see how they’re pushing it and where they’re pushing it.

-We’ve told them “these are the people we want to hit the record with” and if you think in terms of age groups I feel like we’ve got our age group and younger covered. I think we’ve done a good job with hitting them, but I think there’s a whole generation of people who grew up in the 70s with really weird stuff like Frank Zappa and whatnot who I think would be receptive to our music and those ideas that are in the music, and maybe we’d be a gateway to get them into the rest of our music. Just like how Dream Theater has a lot of fans who are into Opeth and Meshuggah. I feel like we should be in the same kind of light as those guys. “Oh you like Dream Theater? Maybe you should check out these guys.” I’m sure those fans would be able to hear the influence of those bands.

What’s the future look like after Colors and the tour?

-We want to get worldwide with this release. As far as touring goes, we’d like to hit all the states within the New Year and get overseas and be able to hit the states again in the spring. That’s a very general plan. This record should definitely get us all over the world.