[7 March 2007]
Name drop the likes of R.E.M., CSNY, Pink Floyd, the Who, Coldplay, Radiohead, or U2, and any one of those artists could be considered influential facets of Thirdimension’s sound. The Swedish quartet are just one of those groups that, if you mentioned nearly any post-hypnotically suggested band, it would be easy to hear trace elements of the aforementioned at various points throughout their repertoire.
As much of a post-modern pasticcio Thirdimension’s musical style can be considered, the band finally come into their own on their latest album, Before the End Begins, establishing a hauntingly unique sound all their own.
Recorded at Johanneskyrkan, an old church in Malmo, Sweden, Before the End Begins—the band’s third album and first-ever live disc—is an almost entirely acoustic affair. Thirdimension rework previously recorded material from their two prior albums, throwing in a few covers for good measure. More often than not, musicians’ weak points can be glaringly exposed in a live environment. However, compared to their previously electrified counterparts, the acoustic versions of Thirdimension’s songs sound infinitely better live. The band’s catalogue largely benefits from Johanneskyrkan’s atmosphere and sparkles from its cathedral setting with a collection of acoustically-altered gems.
Perhaps owing to its live locale, nearly everything about Before the End Begins is touched with a hand of reverence, from the soaring vocals to the gently strummed guitars and echoing piano, right down to even the crowd in attendance. On Before the End Begins, there is a noticeable absence of the hooting and hollering usually present on live albums. On almost any live recording, there’s always that one guy who lets loose with a loud and impassioned “woo!” that makes its way onto the album. Not on this one. The crowd’s response is one of polite, yet genuine, clapping.
Another striking feature of Before the End Begins is the unusual method of keeping rhythm maintained throughout the disc. On this live go-around, Thirdimension eschews traditional rock drumming, replacing it instead with rhythm guitar as the album’s primary time-keeping tool. With the exception of an occasional bass-drum kicked softly for effect, the recording’s main percussive punctuator is a triangle. The often-sneered at trilateral instrument does more than its fair share on Before the End Begins, lending its pleasant ring at key moments. Thirdimension wisely recognize that in the right place, even the simplest of instruments can add so much.
Right out of the gate, Thirdimension set the overall mood of the disc with “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. The song’s title instantly conjures up images of a snarling Dee Snider bedecked in football pads and garish makeup, although chief lyricist/songwriter and vocalist Björn Stegmann’s original composition shares little in common with the Twisted Sister classic but the same name. The piece begins in an almost a cappella state, with the exception of a barely audible, pulsating bass line before erupting into resonating chords of both piano and guitar. The end result sounds more like a hymn you would expect to hear in an ancient place of worship like Notre Dame than a piece found on a modern rock band’s live album.
The comparisons come out once again with Stegmann’s vocals bearing an auditory resemblance to Michael Stipe’s pipes on “Over”. Droning at times and mellifluous at others, there are spots on the track (and throughout Before the End Begins) where Stegmann’s voice falters. Only on a live album are vocal cracks permitted, lending a sense of sweetly-unsweetened authenticity left intact as a relic of the live experience. Overall, there is a melodic earnestness to Stegmann’s voice, in spite of its flaws.
On the cover song end of things, Thirdimension turn in a rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” that stays true to its acid-rock roots, albeit at a slightly slower pace with an acoustic edge. While it’s a good effort, the band’s mash-up of “Don’t Fear the Reaper/Dream All Day” is great. The two songs are blended in a way in which the songs by Blue Oyster Cult and the Posies (respectively) answer one another back. Seizing upon the similarities of ‘70s classic rock and ‘90s alternative, Thirdimension form a logical marriage of the two and produce a piece that sounds like something out of ‘60s group, the Zombies’ catalogue.
While a well-done cover song is always a refreshing change of pace, Before the End Begins’ standout piece is the absolutely beautiful “This Time”. Originally found on the band’s first album, Protect Us From What We Want, Thirdimension’s acoustic reworking complements the song in ways that its original version couldn’t. Layered against a background of slowly picked arpeggios that blossom into a bouquet of resonating chords, the song’s regretful, melancholy lyrics are intoned in a low-key, sing-songy manner before switching over to resonating harmonies that fill the air.
Some people go to church to find themselves. In stepping foot and recording at Johanneskyrkan, Thirdimension seem to have done just that, finally putting a definitive, acoustic stamp on their prior material and creating an impressive oeuvre. Hopefully, Before the End Begins will give the band an identity of their own, apart from comparisons to their various influences.