Two sets of young men are pouring over Emerson, Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis. Episodes of "24" are in their DVD players. Cryptic prose concerning the meaning of life is being hastily scribbled down for an imposing deadline. These men could be four Emory English majors. Or maybe the band members of Thrice. Only one set will be successful at their craft. You can now discount the Emory students.
"Something about the old English guys, I don't what it is," says Dustin Kensrue, lead singer and writer extraordinaire for Thrice, on his literary icons. "The dignity that's there and the way they handle things."
And so we begin with the enigma of Thrice, a band that was once typical Orange County punk (think Descendants), overexposed with screaming emoters (think Thursday), only to turn out a new album produced by Steve Osborne (think Peter Gabriel).
"We wanted to mix punk and metal. We kind of thought it was fun. I think we've always been enamored by the juxtaposition of heavy music and melodic music," continues Kensrue. The only thing left for a longtime Thrice fan is a scratched head, and the words "What the ... ?" on pursed lips, but Thrice, in all of its ironic glory, responds back with a different answer: "Vheissu."
It's "Who are you?" or "What are you called?" and even "Wie Heisst Du?" -- German for "What is your name?" It can be a code name for a Gnostic cult or Mount Vesuvius. Or it's the fourth studio album from Thrice.
"It's kind of elegant, I guess," says Kensrue. "It's mysterious and it doesn't come loaded. We wanted it to have a sense of mystery to the record and a sense of 'What is it really?'"
Vheissu is the amalgamate not only of speed metal, punk rock, and indie outcries, but also a battle hymn for a deeper separation between the immaterial and the real. It's a shout to be noticed, to be felt, to be identified. All that gives rise to the statement "Vheissu."
"There is a rallying feel to a lot of the songs," says Kensrue. "It's definitely a theme of the intrinsic value of human life and dignity. A rebuttal to strict materialism -- that there's no right or wrong or free will."
What begins as self-affirmation in the lead single, "Image of the Invisible," builds to a confrontation about braggadocio and gain. In "Of Dust and Nations," Thrice commands, "so put your faith in more than steel/don't store your treasures up, with moth and rust/where thieves break in and steal." A story of self-realization flows into one of questioning and faith.
The problem with all this "dignity," "mystery," and kicking it with "old English guys" is that Thrice has moved off-kilter to their committed fans -- the ones who haven't read Ralph Waldo Emerson's On Self-Reliance.
"I have no problem with people not liking the record," says Kensrue. "People think it is supposed to be some commercial record. ... This is the most provocative record we have done. We operated freely and dealt with the music we loved."
To further expand the reading list for fans, Thrice partnered with writer Dave Eggers to create an album cover of extremes -- a physical manifestation of the light and dark, up and down, right and wrong that is so apparent in the album. It's a strong McSweeney's image that gives the band street-lit cred it may or may not have wanted.
"I was really happy with it being evenly divided, and the symmetry of the above and the below," says Kensrue about the cover art and its functions. Keeping with the group's record of giving, part of the album's profits will go to 826 Valencia in San Francisco, Eggers' writing workshop for teenagers.
Thrice can be a prototypical Hot Topic SoCal punk band, rough heathens thrashing metal, or a revealing four-piece rock outfit with an overt heart stitched on the members' sleeves. But no matter their musings -- don't discount them.
Looks like I will get a chance to listen in March:
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