If you think about it, Thrice are punk rock’s version of Deftones. Just as Deftones were lumped in rather arbitrarily with many a nü-metal mook, Thrice have been unceremoniously dumped into the screamo deep end, forcing the band to become the voice of a movement they didn’t really have their hearts in. And just as Deftones didn’t really earn critical acclaim until their genre-ditching White Pony in 2000, Thrice have been more of a fan’s band than one championed by stodgy rock critics—but all that is set to change with Vheissu, the band’s most challenging effort yet.

With Vheissu, Thrice prove you can be aggressive without being empty-headed (“Image Of The Invisible”), deep without relying on cliches (“Hold Fast Hope”) and heartfelt without being “emo” (“Atlantic”). And for all the talk of the band’s sound being a dramatic change from albums past (and there is definitely a huge musical growth spurt on this album), the band still throw their older, anti-evolution fans a few bones—unfortunately, they end up tasting a bit stale, as in “Of Dust And Nations,” which comes off more like Thursday’s “Understanding In A Car Crash” than a Thrice song.

The real gems on the album, though, come when the band step out on that musical limb. The two obvious standouts on Vheissu are the Miles Davis/Beethoven-inspired “For Miles”—the first time in frontman Dustin Kensrue’s career that he actually showcases his vocal range, before ripping his vocal cords to shreds for the song’s climax—and the Cave In-circa-“Big Riff” vibe of “The Earth Will Shake,” with Kensrue leading the band through an a cappella Negro slave chant for the song’s breakdown, followed by a snare-drum fill courtesy of stickman Riley Breckenridge, who makes it sound like a locomotive is bearing down on the listener.

Of course, when you stand on that musical limb for too long, the branch will bend (see the too heavily Deftones-influenced chorus of “Like Moths To Flame”) and eventually snap off (the closing pair of “Stand And Feel Your Worth” and “Red Sky”). While the band’s Denali-esque guitar atmospherics and thoughtful keyboard parts are a welcome addition, the experimentation gets out of control toward the disc’s end, and the over-a-minute-long instrumental intros kill the album’s momentum. Fortunately, all is forgotten once the band hits the major-chord peak in “Red Sky,” shooting the album into the stars for one last spine tingle.

When you step back and really study it, Vheissu is an immensely complex, dense and layered album that, unfortunately, is being released too close to the year’s end to properly be considered for anyone’s Best Of 2005 list-but, odds are, after you spend enough time with it, this will be the one album you wish you could put on your Best Of 2006 list.

Deftones' White Pony
Cave In's Jupiter
Denali's Denali