If anyone needs proof that master planned communities with perfect landscaping and endless fields of track housing can rear teenagers who aren’t void of emotions or souls, Irvine’s hardcore punk rock outfit Thrice makes the case.

Often singing from the back of his throat, lead singer Dustin Kensrue forces lyrics through an almost impervious screen of solid drumming, heavily distorted guitars and sharp production on the band’s third full-length release, The Artist in the Ambulance.

Like a paramedic mashing the gas pedal on his way to an accident scene, Thrice wastes no time launching into a four-song barrage of power ballads. The initial four songs, which include the album’s first single “All That’s Left,” frame urgency with a basic yet relentless rhythm section – as opposed to a strict formula of quiet to loud transitions that allow for head-banging tension at intervals rather than with every beat.

Kensrue’s lyrics often conjure blood-soaked images of greed and exploitation with some personal insecurity thrown in for good measure. However, the album’s fifth song, “Stare at the Sun,” begins to shift the album’s focus to more introspective ideas, especially on the title track.

“Now I lay here owing my life to a stranger,” Kensrue sings on “The Artist in the Ambulance,” while he describes a car crash victim being loaded into the back of an ambulance.

While Thrice might just be addressing the unavoidable reliance an artist has on his audience for survival – much like an injured person’s dependence on an anonymous medic – the group also wails simply but sincerely on some basic human fears, namely the uncomfortable thought that you could die without ever living up to your full potential.

“There’s a difference between sleight of hand and giving everything you have,” Kensrue sings.

[Daniel Haier will be releasing a small paperback book titled Haier Family Proverbs in Spring 2004.]