There's no better time to be a screamy, melodic-hardcore band than now, as groups like Hawthorne Heights, Underoath, Atreyu, and others enjoy high record sales in spite of little radio or MTV support and their inherently inaccessible sound. Thrice's two preceding albums helped establish that sound, which operates in a sort of binary code: heavy and not heavy—i.e., pummeling, guitar-drenched punk aggression, and melodic poppiness. Considering the current musical climate, it'd make sense for Thrice to continue on that path.
In that way, Vheissu doesn't make sense. Even with its many heavy parts, Vheissu is surprisingly moody, with numerous atmospheric interludes that have more in common with Radiohead than Converge. It isn't a complete 180, but Thrice restrains its attack to a surprising degree; vocalist Dustin Kensrue doesn't even let his guttural howl loose until the third track, "The Earth Will Shake." That song ends on an intense, almost metallic note, but the next one, "Atlantic," opens with a haunting Rhodes piano, Kensrue quietly singing, and a light, synthesized beat. It remains subdued even when it swells into the chorus of acoustic guitar, subtle synthesizers, and, um, glockenspiel. The next song, "For Miles," sounds similarly tame until its final minute, when Thrice switches back into full-bore rock mode.
In each mode, Thrice practically implores listeners to take it seriously as a collective of artists transcending genre limitations. There's the text-heavy, Dave Eggers-designed cover, the formal-looking liner notes with credits after each song's lyrics, the numerous black-and-white photos showing Thrice looking contemplative in the studio, the six-part thanks list, and even the album's name, a reference to Thomas Pynchon's novel V. Thrice seems so acutely self-aware that Vheissu often feels calculated and inorganic. That goes double for the lyrics, which read like teenage poetry with their generic platitudes and melodramatic language.
Pushing stylistic boundaries is always commendable, particularly for bands like Thrice who usually get tagged and bagged by critics. For all of its ambition, Vheissu remains a transitional album. What comes next will really determine if the group is as artistic as it'd like people to believe.