Thrice: The Alchemy Index

August 29, 2011 — 1 Comment

[This post is part of the College: Alphabetized by Album series]

Thrice and I go way back. Maybe not as far back as you, but I remember first picking up The Artist In The Ambulance album the summer before I went to Word of Life. I was impressed with their deft mixing of hardcore and catchy punk rock, and it contributed to the soundtrack of my first ever fall semester in college. A few years later, they would release Vheissu, which would become a staple of my fall 2005 soundtrack. As you might have gathered, Thrice and Fall go hand in hand.

The Alchemy Index was released as two double EP’s. The first was Fire and Water, the second was Air and Earth. These two sets of CD’s create a 4 part, 24 song cycle. The idea is that each EP will reflect a different aesthetic sound and lyrical themes associated with each respective element. So, the songs off Fire are the heaviest and fiercest, while the songs off Water have a fluid, dynamic quality to them. Interestingly as well, each EP ends with a song that is written in the form of a sonnet depicting man’s relationship to each element. These sonnets end with a rhyming couplet using a melody and chord progression that is the same from EP to EP.

As you might have gathered, Thrice as a band is pretty legit musically. Lesser known is that the lead singer, Dustin Kensrue is a Christian and is the worship leader of Mars Hill’s Orange County campus. The lyrical themes in these EPs are very biblically rich, which is common across all Thrice albums. Interestingly, he has a blurb inside Mark Driscoll’s Doctrine, perhaps making him the most well known rock front-man to endorse a systematic theology.

Thrice’s penchant to release an album every two years in the Fall (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, and soon 2011) combined with my penchant to feel free to move about the country means that different Thrice albums have different geographical overtones to me. The Artist In The Ambulance takes me back to fall 2003 in Florida; Vheissu takes me to autumn road trips to Binghamton, NY (for reasons you’ll discover later); and Fire and Water takes me to the top of the parking garage of my first apartment in Dallas.

As you can see in the picture above, it was quite the view in the shadow of the Dallas skyline. I had the habit that first fall of going up there at night and just thinking. Often I would be playing Thrice’s Water EP and because of that, the first song on there, Digital Sea, is etched in my mind as the visual counterpart to the above picture. The chorus, eerily enough would become part of my reality over the next four years. For your personal enjoyment, here are the lyrics:

I woke, cold and alone
Adrift in an open sea
Caught up in regrets
And tangled in nets
Instead of your arms wrapped around me
And I wept, but my tears are anathema here
Just more water to fill my lungs
I hear someone scream
“Oh God what is it that I’ve done?”

I am drowning in a digital sea
I am slipping beneath the sound
Here my voice goes to ones and zeros
I’m slipping beneath the sound

A song from somewhere below
Deadly and slow begins
Both sickly and sweet
Now picking up speed
Ushering in the world’s end
And the ghost of Descartes screams again in the dark
“Oh how could I have been so wrong?”
But above the screams still the sirens sing their song

I am drowning in a digital sea
I am slipping beneath the sound
Here my voices goes to ones and zeros
I’m slipping beneath the sound

Here my voice goes to ones and zeros
[Repeat till the end]

The chorus line “I’m drowning // In a digital sea,” immediately makes me think of the Dallas skyline. In some ways, I almost drowned in Dallas (as The Chariot might put it, “in ankle deep water”), but I’ve survived, though not unscathed. In other albums, I’ll explore how I almost drowned, but at least when this album came out, I spent many a evening listening to it while starting the sun setting behind the skyline, and that was one of the activities that contributed to a low-stress first year in seminary.

One of the spiritual habits I fostered that first year was silence and solitude, as well as the discipline of aiming for timelessness on the Sabbath. In doing so, I think I was able to effectively reset my soul, not just once a week, but at regular intervals. The busy-ness of life had not encroached on me too far, and at least at this point, I wasn’t drowning in a digital sea.

Later though, it would become a little more of a fight to stay above water.



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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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  1. The Sounds of Autumn « Words With Nate - September 2, 2011

    […] Major/Minor: Like I said on Monday, Thrice tends to define autumn for me sonically, so I’ll look forward to this happening again […]

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