Thrice: The Artist in the Ambulance
Mike Hess
8/4/2003 8:49:03 AM

Thrice has, of course, been incorrectly lumped into the ridiculously named “screamo” onslaught --simply for publicity reasons and for writers with little or no background knowledge of the old metal, hardcore and punk scenes. Sure, they’re on Warped tour, but so is Andrew W.K, so don’t try giving me that spiel. 'Screamo' is best designated for festering pile of shit bands like Bert McCracken’s The Used – not Thrice. Thrice's new album The Artist in the Ambulance[Island] isn’t quite as defining as their previous two, but when given the Pepsi challenge against other bands of their ilk, it is some sweet, sweet listening.

Thrice’s first two releases on Sub City boldly melded hardcore structures and breakdowns with intricate ‘80s metal melodies and harmony, unlike any other bands of the time. Face-flattening drumlines by Riley Breckenridge set the background for the virtuoso guitar work of master shredsman Teppei Teranishi and Dustin Kensrue (also vocalist). Reviews are littered with guitar references to Iron Maiden, and the reason for that is… well, Teranishi cuts at his guitar with a vigor unseen in since the early '80s, especially in a musician this young. The countless references to “heaven’s gate” and such don’t hurt either.

The pace of the new album is slowed down significantly from The Illusion of Safety and Identity Crisis, but in the change Artist shows a maturing band steadily learning how to blend what the biz execs want while never dropping their past ethos. Don’t let anyone tell you that “Under a Killing Moon” is anything but pure, glorious metal. Even the fantastic CD packaging, where the limited edition features individual pullout cards with lyrics and notes from each band-member about that particular song, tells all: “This is what happens when Teppei remembers he likes metal,” says drummer Riley, while Teppei’s portion acknowledges that he wrote the riffs after listening to Killswitch Engage. Right fucking on, Teps!

As with Illusion, Thrice tends to write two styles of songs: some pack pummeling fury, some are passive wishfulness. “Stare at the Sun”, for example, shows the development as a band when it comes to the slower, calmed-down element of their writing. In my opinion, the slower, Ataris-style songs on past albums were often boring and tedious when paired up with the maniacal axe-work of the preceding songs. But when “Stare” closes with Dustin’s voice pleading “I’ll stare straight into the sun, and I won’t close my eyes,” it’s obvious to everyone that lives with a certain amount of pride and independence what he’s talking about.

If Thrice’s past aggro-punk tracks are your bag, look no further than “Paper Tigers” and "The Abolition of Man," by far the most brutal and heavy songs on the album. Dustin’s screams grab you by your ears and shake the fuck out of your little brain while blastbeats and scattered shred riffs ooze of Teppei’s Killswitch-y motives -- with a little twinge of Faith No More to boot.

People with a musical ear or true passion for music can easily tell when a vocalist loves and believes what he’s saying. Forced, faked anger and emotion sounds like just that. But Dustin’s passion pushes the vocals so hard, it led to a nice little vomiting binge after recording “Paper Tigers” (so says the liner notes).

“Blood Clots and Black Holes” rings more of past speed punk than metal, and pushes anti-war front into blatant territory, whereas other tracks take subliminal jabs at it. You make the call -- “To be at peace would be a sin/and surely un-American.”. “Hoods on Peregrine” also takes a few swings at the media mindfuck (one has to assume recent war coverage plays a huge role), with a chorus of “you think they’re selling you truth/truth is they’re selling you out” and “Knowledge locked in a tower, barons will hold the key/but if knowledge is power, know this is tyranny/all we’re asking for is what’s ours.”

“The Abolition of Man”, inspired by philosopher/writer C.S. Lewis, is a sci-junky tale that’s an atomic bomb detonation in song form, increasing in its fury with each passing second, ending in complete and utter devastation.

Plain and simple, Thrice owns the current scene when you factor in originality, innovation and pure musical chops. It'll be interesting to compare the new Thursday album, Island/Def Jam's newest emo-punk babies, when it drops in a month or two.

Putting an album out into a burgeoning scene that you started years ago is a rough proposition. The Artist in the Ambulance should be a handbook to all new bands on how to do it well.


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