Thrice – The Artist in the Ambulance

The outlet for anger is a well documented element of the music cosmos. It seems the birth of its most vile incarnation can be traced to the early/middle 80’s, when most less-discerning rock bands were laced in leather and big hair. It was during such bewildered times that the likes of Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield assumed the burdening role of turning glam influenced rock on its backside. Taking the seeded grit of previous flag bearers Motorhead and adding an incredible dose of unrelenting fury that only the most demented could possess; they tore open metal’s underbelly and implanted their own demonic seedling, coined by many as “thrash”. It was the blitz-like guitar flailing coupled with the often sinister lyrical tones that resulted in a chaotic uprising in music that has very rarely been seen after.

It’s been 17 years since Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? and 20 since Kill ‘em All, both deemed essential recordings of said genre; and it seems in the years proceeding, few have ever come as close as when Mustaine was hell-bent on topping his former band mates (not even Mustaine and Hetfield themselves). The intensity and outright disregard that both bands exhibited were like pages from the darkest chapter of hell; volatile and equivocally self-destructive. Today, there is little of such animosity; and there is nothing self-destructive, volatile or even remotely unrelenting about Thrice. Instead there is an apparent twist between the desire to be chaotic and the apprehension towards being too chaotic.

Chief lyricist Dustin Kensrue is well-schooled in dark poetic adages; in “Under a Killing Moon” he pens, “the blood on your black gloves / it is none of your concern / if you want to call our bluff / get in line and wait your turn / and watch the witches burn”. While certainly reaching levels of pervasive morbid inklings, it appears he is content at simply reciting dark goth-like poetry. And it seems Kensrue’s tendencies have arisen from broken hearts and mistrust; in “The Abolition of Man” he scowls “It’s not too late to save the remnants of our hearts / so stop giving up our last shot at love / our only chance to find the meaning of the beat beneath the blood” and in “Silhouette” he coins, “your eyes followed me here / your eyes seamless and sure / they leave me broken and in need of a cure”. Maybe Kensrue is slightly peeved, but angry and hateful he is not.

However, the biggest gripe lies not in Kensrue’s treatment of words, but rather in Thrice’s apparent indecision between being metal with punk/melodic traces or being punk with metal inclusions – an uncertainty they avoid only twice; in the aforementioned “The Abolition of Man”, they rely heavily on metal crunching, crushing growls and the sort of remorseless attitude that one would hope they could maintain. It is in stark contrast to “The Artist in the Ambulance”, this track is plain and simple, bland melodicore, but at least the aspirations here are clear.

Nevertheless, their desire to mix together metal tones with penchants for melody ends up as a diluting agent of sorts; the opening cut “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts” begins aggressively enough – the trademark gruff of Kensrue, but it quickly resolves into far more generic territory; quiet/loud musical shifts and airy vocals before, near the track’s end, reverting back to far more grating instances. It seems as if Thrice wish not to alienate (or rather, wishes to attract) those more inclined to catchy hooks and accessible refrains. It is also apparent that lead axe-man Teppei Teranishi is the able guitarist who clearly displays the voracity to let loose metal’s finest screeching; as showcased by brief moments throughout this release (notably in the opening bars of “Under a Killing Moon” and “Blood Clots and Black Holes”) but is often restricted by having to play lame riffs of catchy nuances (see “All That’s Left”).

Thrice is quite the anomaly; on one hand, they appear to be on the cutting edge of today’s marketable brand of “harder” music, but on the other, they seem caught up in trying to justify this nonsensical “blender” approach to songwriting. An approach which strangely enough, has taken a far less creative turn since their last release, The Illusion of Safety (2002). Take heed, Thrice are passable in this much maligned era, but in a musical landscape in dire need for a Dave Mustaine in ’86 or a Hetfield of ’83, The Artist in the Ambulance feels a lot like a Jon Bon Jovi in ’87.

(Island Records)

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