This past Thursday I had the pleasure of seeing Orange County’s own Thrice perform at the Long Beach Arena as part of the Taste of Chaos Tour. They put on a really strong set, easily one of the highlights of the night, and played several songs off their latest release, Vheissu. While Thrice is not a Christian band (some band members are Christians, including lead singer and lyricist Dustin Kensrue), the lyrics abound with positive messages and Biblical references. Within the poetry, the picture about and influence from God is there for all to see.
Vheissu is the fourth studio album (second for major label Island Records) from Thrice, and varies differently from their previous work. The one-time metal/hardcore band slows it down on many of the songs, favoring soaring melodies and atmospheric guitars, although there are still several songs that showcase their trademark heavier sound. The album title, a reference from the Thomas Pynchon novel V, is a moniker similar to the German phrase “Wie Heisst du?,” which translates “What are you called?” This is incorporated into the cover art, and is a running theme throughout the album.
Right off the bat, opener “Image of the Invisible” sets the stage: “We all were lost now we are found/ we all are named and we all are known.” The song is an anthem about our identity in Christ, referencing that “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), and thus as Sons of God, so are we. We are more than anything this world has to offer, “more than carbon and chemicals,” because of that fact. Nothing can take that away from us, as we have assurances He will never leave us nor forsake us.
“Music Box” expresses these same sentiments: “We are not alone, we feel an unseen love/ we are sons and heirs of grace/ we are children of a light that never dims/ a love that never dies.” This song is one of encouragement, confirming who we are in God, and a call to take comfort in that truth. Even though the world around us may be horrible and we ourselves may be going through a difficult time, we still have something to hold onto and sing about. The song ends with the line, “Stand ready and tall, reflect the light,” urging us to do just that.
The imagery of light appears in other songs as well. In the song “Between the End and Where We Lie,” daylight is used as a metaphor for God: “Daylight pours fire into my grey eyes/ pours grace into my grey life/ breaks in and light the way/ I can’t live without the day.” “Atlantic” expresses a similar concept: “Cause my eyes are open, and everything still moves in slow-motion/ Breathless and blue, and behind your eyes the sea/ Oceans of light envelop me.”
Light is used many times to describe God in the Bible, including throughout the Psalms, while Jesus himself proclaimed, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Our world is longing for traces of light because so much of it is covered in darkness. The songs are journeys about trying to find this light, and when discovered, how beautiful and magnificent it is. Once we experience how wonderful God is, all else pales in comparison because we realize we “can’t live without the day.”
Not everything in life is light, however, as two songs allude to the darker sides of two well-known Biblical characters. The first, “Hold Fast Hope,” is about Jonah and his punishment. He tries to angrily run away from God after the city of Nineveh is spared, and ends up in the belly of a whale as a result. Yet, as the song says, Jonah still clings to the hope that God will save him and give him another chance. The second, “Like Moths to Flame,” is about the great Peter at the worst moment of his life, when he betrays his Savior three times.
Both of these songs are about the low points of two great men of God. These fit in with the overall message of Vheissu, which is one of encouragement. Even at our darkest moments, there is still hope and redemption is still possible, as Jonah and Peter later experienced firsthand. We are called to persevere throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament when the first Christians themselves were under intense persecution, and hold onto the fact one day things will get better. At the end of the world, we know we will overcome and emerge victorious.
Fittingly, then, perhaps the most prevalent theme on the album revolves around the return of Christ, when all wrongs will be righted and all evil will be vanquished. On “The Earth Will Shake,” which is reminiscent of Paul and Silas in prison, people dream of life outside of prison walls, and the song culminates in a loud shout: “Look to the day the earth will shake/ these weathered walls will fall away.” This is a common cry heard throughout history, especially from those persecuted, for God to rescue the oppressed. The black choir feel during the bridge sounds like a spiritual that could have been sung during the days of slavery, an outpouring and hunger for a final deliverance and justice.
“For Miles” makes reference to what that time will be like: “On that day all of the scales will swing to set all the wrongs to right/ all our tears, and all of our fears will take to flight.” It acknowledges this has been made possible by Christ shedding His blood for us, echoing John 15:13. Elsewhere, “Stand and Feel Your Worth” is about an encounter the writer’s soul has with Jesus in heaven: “Awed by grace, I fall on my face/ and scream the word that can save us all.”
Meanwhile, “Of Dust and Nations” essentially paraphrases several of Jesus’ parables about what to do with our remaining time here on Earth, such as the Wise and Foolish Builders and the Rich Fool. We are told to put our “faith in more than steel/ don’t store your treasures up, with moth and rust/ where thieves break in and steal.” The things of this life will fall away; only our souls will remain forever. Therefore, we should concentrate our time on things that will have eternal significance, and not things that in the grand scheme are rendered meaningless.
Vheissu then comes to a close in epic fashion with “Red Sky,” one of the album’s highlights. It showcases apocalyptic imagery and seems to foreshadow Armageddon: “Look and see the sky turn red/ like blood it covers over me/ and soon the sea shall give up her dead/ we’ll raise an empire from the bottom of the sea.” Finally, the time has come for good to triumph over evil, and with Christ as King, no one will be able to stop His army.
Obviously, it is possible to overlook the lyrics and just enjoy the music, which many listeners do, but for those who dig a little deeper, the messages on Vheissu are clear. While Kensrue never mentions God by name, there is no doubt that He is at work in every song. So for those willing to take the journey, they will be rewarded by portraits of encouragement, redemption and ultimately about the hope we have in the future, when “every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phlp. 2:11).