BY: ADAM PRINGLE
For Thrice, the word "complacency" has never been a part of its vocabulary when it comes to music. The Irvine-based post-hardcore/metal/whatever-they-damn-well-please band has long displayed its willingness and ability to evolve musically. From the punk/metal hybrid, 2001 debut LP, "Identity Crisis," to the propulsive and pummeling post-hardcore of 2002's "The Illusion of Safety" and 2003's "The Artist in the Ambulance" to the hard-yet-atmospheric sound of 2005's "Vhiessu," the quartet's music has defied easy classification. Now, singer/guitarist Dustin Kensrue and company have taken their sound to a new level with their latest project "The Alchemy Index," a four-EP concept album in which each of the discs is musically and lyrically representative of the four natural elements, earth, air, fire and water.
"We had never done a concept album before, and we try to keep things fresh with each album that we do," drummer Riley Breckenridge said.
Each disc has a sound that is representative not only of the element being musically depicted but of how far Thrice has come.
According to Breckenridge, the "Water" disc is more electronic-oriented, the "Earth" disc is rootsy and "feels like something that could have been pulled off a blues record 50 years ago," the "Air" disc is focused around ambient pieces "written with floating or flying in mind," and the "Fire" disc has a more heavy and aggressive sound closer to Thrice's previous work.
"There's stuff that I never thought we'd end up making," Breckenridge said. "On the "Earth" disc, there's some shit on there that's like what you'd hear in a smoky blues club in France [and] some crazy departures from what we'd ever done."
Unlike their previous albums, which were recorded under the guidance of a hired producer, "The Alchemy Index" was produced by the band members themselves.
"It was cool because we had absolute freedom to do whatever we wanted to do," Breckenridge said. "It was also difficult at times, but we worked through it, and I think it helped us a lot because it really helped us trust each other."
"The Alchemy Index" is also Thrice's first record for the nationally renowned indie label Vagrant Records. The band had previously been with Island Records, but according to Breckenridge, it left the label in June due to disagreements over the band's musical direction.
"I think [Island] was hoping that we would stumble on some hit single and end up selling a lot of records, and we never had that as a priority," he said. "We're definitely grateful for the opportunity that we had. I'm glad I got to see that side of the music business, but I think we're much better off now."
Even though there are no plans to widely release a single off the EPs ("Digital Sea" from the "Water" disc is a candidate for the first single and video, but the band isn't looking to give the song a huge promotional push), Vagrant has supported Thrice's project.
"At Vagrant, everybody is excited about working with the band and working on the record," Breckenridge said. "It feels nice to have people supportive of what you're doing when you're working on something that's really important to you."
In keeping with its long-standing tradition of giving to various charities, Thrice will donate proceeds from sales of "The Alchemy Index," which will be released in two parts (the "Fire" and "Water" discs hit stores Oct. 16, while the "Earth" and "Air" discs will be released next spring). A portion of the sales of the "Fire" and "Water" EPs will go to a charity set up to get clean water for people in Africa.
Although Thrice doesn't have any immediate plans to write and record more songs after its upcoming fall tour with Brand New, the band isn't looking to stand still musically, which is reflected in Breckenridge's inability to listen to himself perform on earlier albums such as "Identity Crisis" and "The Illusion of Safety."
"I'm never satisfied, really," he said. "Everything could always be better. If you're completely content with everything you do, there would be no impetus to progress or get better.