Number Five. Thrice - The Alchemy Index (2007-2008)
Thrice was one of those bands that slowly worked their way into my consciousness as I heard about them from different people I knew and saw news about them online. In October 2007, when AbsolutePunk linked to a full stream of their latest project - and everyone on there spoke highly of it - I checked it out. It was the first two parts of a four-part concept project known as The Alchemy Index, containing six songs under each of the four elemental categories of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, which served as an inspiration both for lyrical themes and musical composition. I listened through it a couple times and generally liked it, but I was on the fence about buying it until I looked up the lyrics, really paid attention to them…. and was blown away.
In just over two years, Dustin Kensrue has become one of my favorite songwriters. He creates moving images and settings with allusions to Greek mythology, ancient fables, historical figures, and a lot of Scripture. One of my first favorite songs was "Digital Sea," which discusses how technology invades our lives: "The ghost of Descartes screams in the dark / 'Oh, how could I have been so wrong?'… I am drowning in a digital sea…" "Daedalus" gives the father's perspective of Icarus's fateful high flying and melted wings. "The Lion and the Wolf" paints metaphors about how destruction can come from the outside as well as yourself.
But what really shattered my paradigm was the Biblical references and themes. For a few years I had been witnessing a welcome increase in popularity and respect for Christian musicians in the mainstream industry, but it often seemed to come at the price of watering down their message and hiding what they believed. So it was at once incredibly surprising and encouraging for me to find a band that was never really associated with the Christian market to begin with (or else I would have been spinning Vhiessu instead of Kutless back in high school…) and had a lot of non-Christian fans while still singing about Christ with better lyrics than a lot of the more official "Christian" bands!
The lead line of "Come All You Weary," my favorite Thrice tune, is straight out of Matthew, and is a beautifully encouraging song for anyone who's ever been battered or exhausted. "Moving Mountains" references 1 Corinthians 13 as the singer claims that he can move mountains and understand angel tongues, yet "I don't know the first thing about love." "The Messenger" draws inspiration from Isaiah in its depiction of a man answering the call of God: "Kiss the coals, breathe in smoke, and I say, 'Here I am, send me.'"
The music was equally impressive. The Fire songs were intense; Water was calm; Air was ambient; Earth was stripped-down and, well, earthy. The quality of production and musicianship held the versatile project together into a cohesive structure. Shifting time signatures here, ambient layers there, and maybe just a passionately strummed guitar over there… it all was supported by strong melodies and even stronger lyrics. This year I reached back into their previous work and also acquired their new album, finding the same strength throughout. Beggars quickly became one of my favorite releases of '09 with its timeless theme that everything in this life doesn't really matter.
For breaking stereotypes with your variety of sound, for shattering my paradigms about what Christians are allowed to sing about in the mainstream market, for making me think and encouraging me and helping me realign my perspectives about life --- here's to you, Thrice, at Number Five.