Alchemy Index Vol. III & IV – Air & Earth
by Jeremy Deal
From the initial announcement of Thrice’s intentions to record a set of 4 EP’s, each attributed to one of the main elements, fans were polarized, with stances that ranged from calling the idea “genius” to “pretentiousness”. I fell moreso into the former, thinking that the idea held a lot of promise; the concept of taking their music to another level, making it more of an art than a collection of “itunes candy,” was commendable. For months we heard tidbits about the sounds and dynamics of making songs fit their respective “element”, a few songs were performed live mostly to acclaim, and the band kept fans in touch with the process via their own blogsite. After all the build-up, the band signed to Vagrant and it was announced that The Alchemy Index would now be split into two different two disc sets. It was this last step that I think gave Thrice the biggest hinderance to their latest endeavors.
It was with Vheissu that Thrice really began creating a sound apart from their mostly hardcore back-catalogue. What made that album a true gem, to myself, was that it ran the gambit of crushingly heavy aural assaults to beautiful soundscapes that really drew out one’s imagination. It was a complete package. The Alchemy Index would’ve faired better if it would’ve been allowed that same privilege. The second half of the band’s project comes in the form of “Air” & “Earth”. If “Fire” & “Water” were two polar opposites of the spectrum, “Air” & “Earth” feel like the middle pieces that would’ve cemented it all together.
“Air” consists of songs dealing mostly with the ideals of flying and hopefulness (funny how those two themes go hand in hand so well huh?). True to its namesake, the songs also manage to have a dreamy, wispy vibe to them, which is epitomized by the enveloping sound of the disc’s closer, “Silver Wings”. The two strongest tracks from this EP are “Daedalus” and “The Sky Is Falling”, the former which finds the band on their second visit to the story of Icarus (this one quite chilling in nature) and the latter being a rather rapid paced commentary on society’s unwillingness to “see” the world around it crashing. “A Song for Milly Michaelson” is an unusual tribute to an 80’s movie in which a boy proves that his belief in something, if strong enough, can bring it to fruition.
“Earth” is something more likened to Dustin Kensrue’s solo album last year. Its tone is more folky and simplistic in nature. One of the Alchemy songs that has longest been played in concert, “Come All You Weary” can be found on this disc; on it, they sing of camaraderie and redemption through brotherhood. After hearing the complete project, it remains a favorite of mine, though the general consensus from their fans is a bit more indifferent. This disc also features some of the more obscure instrumentation and experimentation in style of all four entries. “Digging My Own Grave” is a ghostly little number that features a rather well placed woodwind piece that makes it almost jazzy (if ghostly and jazzy can coexist, then there you have it). Two other oddities are “The Lion & The Wolf”, a piano driven, twisted lullaby, and the far-too-short closer for the disc, “Child of Dust,” which brings the creepiest element of their “Earth” disc in its closing.
The pair of EPs are a strong effort in their own right, but feel much shorter than their counterparts despite the inclusion of the 6 minute “Daedalus”. There also doesn’t feel to be quite as much diversity on these two albums as a ‘cohesive unit” as there was on Volumes I & II. This goes back to my argument from before that the Alchemy Index, if released as one project unto itself, would be a solid work and a more balanced affair. Thrice have definitely proven that they have the creative chops to carry out a vision and do so in high fashion. This album serves best as a reminder that they have the right idea and hopefully will earn them more weight in the decision making process next time. Eyes are already pointed forward to what the band will do next, as it has the potential to be a masterpiece if they’re allowed to keep their ideals from being diluted by typical commercial handling.
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