The end of the year is upon us, and as is typically the case, it is once again a time of reflection, a chance to look back at the year gone by and take stock of what has happened. In the music blogosphere, this means “Top Ten” and “Best Of” lists (which will be going up here at the Monolith any day now, I’m sure) recounting the albums that really caught the attention of the list-maker for being just that damn good. It is, generally speaking, a time for celebrating the new music that arrived and was listened to, perhaps becoming a new favourite or an instant classic. But the dwindling of the calendar also marks a time to look back not only at the music we gained, but also the music we lost. It is in this light and with this knowledge that I bid a fond farewell to one of the most important bands of my life, Thrice.
I first heard Thrice when I was a junior in high school; their third record The Artist In the Ambulance had been released earlier that year, and as I was still doing things that necessitated listening to the radio like driving to and from work and school, I had heard their single “All That’s Left” quite a few times. It was a little heavier than a lot of the music I was listening to at the time which, I’m sure, was part of the appeal. I went out and bought Artist in the Ambulance, and was blown away. From Dustin Kensrue’s opening scream in “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts” to the distortion-filled end to album-closer “Don’t Tell and We Won’t Ask”, I loved every song and listened to the album over and over. I liked the heaviness and intensity of it, but even more than that, Artist was one of the first albums whose lyrical content really spoke to me. Whether it was the universe-searching pleas for answers on “Stare at the Sun” or the deathbed plea of hope that you did more good than bad in “The Artist in the Ambulance”, the lyrical content throughout the album spoke to more than anything I had listened to previously. There was something alluring and inspiring about a band giving a damn about so much more than their music, while still lovingly crafting incredible songs and it made me question a lot about how I lived my life. I didn’t want to be the titular artist one day, lying in an ambulance drawing my last breaths and wondering if I broke more promises than I kept, hoping that I’d not let the people closest to me down. Lyrics from this album adorned my AIM Away Messages and Facebook statuses until I did away with both, and for good reason (the lyrics, not having AIM or Facebook).
The summer before I started college, I knew Thrice was working on a new album, which is the first album I can remember being excited for, but I also knew they had released some albums prior to The Artist in the Ambulance, so I went back and listened to Identity Crisis and Illusion of Safety. Neither of them really grabbed me the way that Artist did, but I didn’t expect any music to ever do that again, so I wasn’t surprised. I still found some favourites, particularly “To Awake and Avenge the Dead”. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that the lyrical message, while a bit more raw, was still just as present on their first two albums. That solidified to me, that Thrice were a band that meant the things they sang about, and that chose their lyrical content based on the issues that meant a lot to them. While they’re nowhere near the only band to do this, listening to Thrice was the first time I remember actively asking myself “What is this song saying? Is it asking a question I want to ask myself?” Until that point, I was content to just enjoy guitar notes or bass riffs, and while that can be more than enough, it’s because of Thrice that I developed my obsession with reading song lyrics to understand what the band is trying to say.
I mentioned earlier that I didn’t expect anything to impact me the way The Artist in the Ambulance did, and I meant that. Thing is, that was before Thrice followed that album up with Vheissu, an album that continued the band’s lyrical questioning while musically turning in a much more progressive, different direction. Having never anticipated a band’s release like this before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it just be more of the same (which I would have been completely fine with!)?
As it turns out, with Vheissu Thrice resisted what must have been a strong temptation to stick to a tried and tested formula, deviating enough from what had come before whilst still maintaining the intensity found on Artist. Vheissu mellows things down considerably in some spots (most noticeable on the track “Atlantic”) and ramps up the catharsis and power in others (“The Earth Will Shake” ,“Red Sky”). Whatever I expected it to be, Vheissu defied my preconceptions, and that made it all the better. When Thrice toured in support of the album, my best friend Nick (who introduced me to their back catalogue) and I went to see them for the first time. It was my first show in a venue smaller than an amphitheater or arena, and Thrice didn’t disappoint. From the shout along finale in “Image of the Invisible” to the electricity of “Deadbolt” to the acoustic rendition of “Stare at the Sun” that served as an encore, the show was amazing. I’ve seen Thrice a half-dozen times since then, in various venues and states of sobriety, and they’ve never disappointed. The last of those times was this past June, when I caught them on their farewell tour in Milwaukee. The symbolic nature of Thrice being both my first and last college concert was not lost on me, and I proceeded as such. I moshed for the first time in many years during “Silhouette”, and screamed as loud as I could during “Firebreather”. I felt that after all they had given me over my years of fandom, I could give them my all during this one last show.
The Artist in the Ambulance was nine years ago. In that time, I have found dozens, if not hundreds of new bands to listen to and enjoy, along with albums that have spoken to me just as much or more as that one. But I have not found a band that has had the profound impact on my life as a music listener (and as a person) as Thrice. Besides the obsession with lyrics and love of bands experimenting with different sounds that I’ve mentioned before is something even more important: I wouldn’t be a metalhead if not for Thrice. Much as I love it, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication wasn’t going to bridge me to Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache the way songs like “Silhouette” and “Deadbolt” did, and without KSE there’s no talking point with my college roommate Noah who introduced me to Lamb of God and Mastodon… and without LoG and Mastodon, I’m all but fucked on metal. The heavy/soft dynamic of Opeth reminded me of Vheissu, and through that portal I got into death metal. There is absolutely no way that I’d have my current love of black metal without Thrice, even if they share very little similarities stylistically or lyrically.
Between Vheissu and their farewell tour, Thrice released three (or four, depending on how you view The Alchemy Index) more albums, some of which I loved and others that failed to capture my adoration the way the band had previously. But it didn’t matter by that point; I still saw them every time they toured, and I still listened to the songs I love regularly. A friend asked me if I regretted my Thrice tattoo after Major/Minor (which I don’t especially care for, but is nowhere near as terrible as I thought it was upon first listen), and I laughed at such a foolish notion. Our favourite bands often become such because they continually make music that appeals to us; once they stop doing that, they are replaced by other bands more appealing to us in the moment. But sometimes a favourite band is about more than the music, to the point that even when they stop making any sort of music all together, let alone music that you love, you don’t let them go. They’re still there, and you revisit your old favourites, remembering what they meant and still mean to you, while hoping that maybe the next album will have something to add to that list; no, it’s not even a question of whether or not you’re buying the album. You know you are. That’s Thrice for me. I don’t know what the future holds for Dustin Kensrue, Teppei Teranishi, Eddie Breckenridge, and Riley Breckenridge; four men whom I’ve never met and yet mean so ludicrously much to me, but if this truly is the end, then all I can do is say thank you for all the wonderful memories. If it isn’t the end, then I can’t wait to hear their next album and see them live again.