Thursday have never been a band to make a habit out of resting on their laurels or settling into a comfort zone. Their sixth studio album (their second Epitaph release), “No Devolución,” finds the New Jersey band continuing to broaden their sound and experiment with other, less-than-punk influences (Radiohead and Hum and maybe a little “White Pony” era Deftones are the first that come to mind). The result is an ambitious, label-eschewing album that will wind up on many “Best Of…” lists at year’s end.
The story floating around about “No Devolución” is that it was essentially written over the course of a week’s time, when the band showed up at the studio to begin the tracking process. While not unheard of, especially in punk music, a claim like that carries with it serious doubt in this case based on the sheer monumental scope of the album. Each song on “No Devolución” contains layers upon layers of instrumentation that really warrants a good set of headphones to appreciate.
As you’d guess from an album whose title translates to “no returns” and whose lyrical content seems to focus on the somewhat recent rumored demise of frontman Geoff Rickly’s marriage, the bulk of the music on “No Devolución” is darkly atmospheric; a heap of giant, moody swirls abound. Album opener “Fast To The End” contains effects-heavy vocals that give the impression that Rickly is singing backwards. The guitars are also heavy on the effects, especially during the breakdown sections. It marks the first in a trio of songs (with “Past & Future Ruins” and “A Gun In The First Act”) that are the type of material that Jared Leto could only dream about writing for his 30 Seconds To Mars project (I know, I’ll probably get eviscerated in a Jersey meat-packing plant for that reference). The wall of guitar-and-drum sound, dynamic tonal changes, and layered, multi-instrumental atmospheric touches sound exactly like what Leto is trying for, only Thursday are able to sound raw and unpretentious amidst the swirling, building musical crescendos. (And the chorus to the latter song sounds downright evil.)
“No Devolución” starts to hit its stride with the album’s second track, “A Darker Forest.” The song’s quiet-loud-quiet-louder pattern are not new to the genre, but Thursday push that envelope to new dynamic heights on this track. Thursday have finally been able to incorporate the better parts of Rickly’s voice as a true instrument. Cycling between delicate airy and unrestrained gritty at different points on the album, Rickly’s tenor weaves its way through the rest of the instrumentation, becoming another layer to the ever expanding sound without getting in the way. (In an odd twist, the extreme ends of Rickly’s voice tend to work the best, while the mid-range singing suffers from sounding a tad reined in.) Rickly’s voice makes lines like “What if every path you take starts to look the same and leads equally astray” sound particularly poignant.
“Magnets Caught In A Metal Heart,” the album’s lead single evokes a more polished version of the underrated early-aughts post-hardcore band No Motiv, but sounds bigger and bolder than anything NM ever did, especially after the second chorus, where the backing instrumentation sounds almost operatic (but not in a cheesy, high school angsty, Evanescence-rock sort of way). “Empty Glass” sounds eerily sparse, consisting mostly of Rickly’s voice and what sounds like a pump organ through the verses. That organ is joined by what sounds like a broken carnival carousel during the bridge sections, for a rather haunting sound.
“Open Quotes,” “Turnpike Divides” and “Stay True” are by-and-large the most typical “post-hardcore” sounding tracks. “Turnpike Divides” is the band’s ode to home (in this case, New Jersey), and contains the requisite Bruce Springsteen reference (a nice touch). “Stay True” was written with Touche Amore in mind, and presents a cautionary tale to younger bands coming up through the ranks, warning of the need to keep one’s friends close and their own convictions closer. Seems money isn’t everything after all. “Disregard those dollar signs / they’ll buy the biggest house in hell, where you’ll live alone.”
“No Devolución” is not without its sour notes. The synth-pop intro to “No Answers” scared me a little (one can envision Ke$ha or Gaga ripping off the track, turning it into a very different song). The intro to “A Gun In The First Act” contains only a basic accordion track that sounds out of place, but is eventually joined by some of the fullest sounding drums on the album. The verse portions of “Millimeter” serve as the album’s low point, but the chorus is well-crafted and saves the song from being a total throwaway. You can almost expect that there are going to be some misses when a band tries to push as many boundaries as Thursday try to do on “No Devolución.” That said, the hits more than make up for those misses, and lead Thursday’s legion of fans to wonder which direction will come next.