I really hope Tony Hajjar and Jim Ward are reading this article. Why? Because I want to be able to ask them what the hell they were thinking with the notion that The Mars Volta wasn’t the best choice for them. Just who is The Mars Volta you ask? Well let me break it down for ya’ll below.
Back in 2001, my favorite band of all time had a lil falling out. I’m of course talking about At the Drive-In. At the Drive-In hailed from El Paso, Texas; and pretty much made it rain in the post-hardcore scene. But when they broke up in 2001, they split into two separate projects. One led by Jim Ward, Sparta, and the other project called The Mars Volta, led by Mr. Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
Today’s review is about the latter band, The Mars Volta. I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering if people really cared about reading an article about The Mars Volta, with the ending reaction of me not giving a shit what you think (that is, if you have something bad to say), because they are more talented than a majority of the progressive rock bands out there. But their sound isn’t limited to that single label, as every album since their inception has had a different feel to it, with the latest album, The Bedlam in Goliath having a Middle Eastern feel to it.
The Mars Volta derives its name from two sources: Mars, because of the bands love for science fiction, and also by a book by Federico Fellini, in which Fellini describes a changing of scenes in his movies as a Volta. Deep right? I know.
While most of the boys from At the Drive-In went on to join Sparta at first, all of them have reverted to where they should be, at the side of The Mars Volta. Although the band has gone through many lineup changes and had many a guest star (including both Flea and John Fruciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), this latest album feature a heavy weight list of musicians.
For the sake of not writing a horrendous sentence, the live band members are as follows: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on the guitar, Cedric Bixler-Zavala on the mic, Isaiah ‘Ikey’ Owens on the keyboards, Juan Alderete on the bass, Thomas Pridgen destroying faces on the drums, Omar’s brother Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez with the percussion, Paul Hinojos fiddled with the sounds and played a backup guitar, Adrian Terrazas-Gonzales on the flute( along with the tenor sax, soprano sax, and bass clarinet), and finally John Fruciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on guitar when he had the time to spare.
But at the end of the day, the hero of the album for me is definitely Thomas Pridgen, the new drummer for the band. His record as a drummer is staggering to drummers, or any musician for that matter. I could get extensive, but I’ll save spare you. I will say however, that at age 10 he became the youngest person endorsed by Zildjian drums since its creation in 1623…no that’s not a typo…nearly 400 years. That alone should clue you in. The album was released at the beginning of 2008, and I’m still hearing details in the drumming that I’ve never heard before. Thomas Pridgen is on my favorite drummers list, and for good reason. But let’s get into the album shall we?
The Mars Volta comes to us with the same insane energy that we have learned to love over the years. But more importantly, the boys want us to have fun. What do I mean? Well, back in the At the Drive-In days (and I know Ced doesn’t like talking about his other bands but meh), he made it a point that if men wanted to take their male aggression out on people by moshing around with people who were trying to enjoy the show, they would stop it all together. He maintains this, because last year when I went to see them in concert (best concert EVAR by the way), he told people the same thing, which made me laugh. He said the following after a girl got carried out due to a broken leg by some asshole:
“Hey, look assholes, that girl just had to be carried out of here because you can’t control your male aggression. Take it elsewhere. Save that shit for the Warped Tour.”
The band wants you to be able to enjoy the show and be able to dance to their music. What’s strange is no matter how insane the music gets, it’s all very danceable. The Bedlam in Goliath is one of their more groovy albums. But this wasn’t without a wild story of its creation.
So the story goes…while on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Mars Volta got hold of a type of Ouija board called the Soothsayer. Through this board, strange unfortunate things began to happen with the band, including the fleeing of their then drummer Blake Flemming mid-tour, their sound engineer having a nervous breakdown and refusing to help the band finish the album, and confusing messages from a figure who the band ended up calling Goliath, which no doubt had a hand in the albums naming. Cedric had to have surgery on his foot and relearned to walk, while Omar had his New York studio flooded. Enough being enough, the board was snapped in half by Omar, and buried at an undisclosed location, with it never to be talked about again by the band until the album was complete.
All these signs would point to the album being forgotten about, the band continued in its production schedule. The Mars Volta described this album as having a curse put on them, and finishing it and putting it out, would release this curse. Hell, the band even came with a mini Ouija board inside its flaps for us to gawk at. Whether this was a creative marketing ploy, or they really were scared shitless, I still say…well played boys; well played indeed.
My first favorite track on the album is track 3, Ilyena, which starts with Cedric and his eerie introduction vocals. This is important because what people need to understand that while his lyrics do serve a wild message, he is also using his voice as an instrument. I believe this to be a concept that most people fail to grasp. Most idiots just think “wow his singing is lame”. And so are you if you think the same way. Also, the drums are INSANE in this song, and it’s worth putting on a good pair of headphones, just to hear the detail of Pridgen on the drums whilst among the serene guitars and voice of Cedric; especially from 2:25 to 3:15.
Second, is the single released from the album, track 4, Wax Simulacra, which is one of my favorite tracks, with its intense drum intro, and strange guitar wailing in the background. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a saxophone go so crazed on a song before, but this one is up there. Listen for it at the end. I felt like the singing and drums were more in tune with each other than the other songs. Maybe it’s because I’m a biased Pridgen fan, but whatever. I love this song because it’s short and sweet, a rare choice for The Mars Volta (the song clocks in at less than 3 minutes, with others at over 7 minutes).
Next up is track 5, titled Goliath. Now listen, I challenge you to unravel the lyrics of this song and its meaning. I still haven’t been able to put even an ant’s finger on it. But needless to say, this is one of the funkier tracks on the song, and allows John Fruciante to really shine, as well as the time keeping bass line of Juan Alderete. And while on the subject of time keeping, the timing might seem a bit off to you, and that’s because it is. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the groove, and it makes a lot more sense to you.
Track 10, Ouroborous, felt a lot more like a Latin rock track, making it very easy to dance to in the main verses. The drum breakdowns in the second chorus (specifically at about 1:50), made this track a keeper for me. Later in the song, the song slows down, giving it a rather epic breakdown for the track, which is easy to find yourself nodding your head to. The energy picks up at the end and skips back to slowing down, overall giving me more ups and downs than my step sisters mood.
Finally, the gateway to the end of the album is the 11th track, Soothsayer. Apparently those voices and people you hear walking around in the introduction and exit to the song, were recorded in Jerusalem while the band was on the aforementioned tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in the cities Christian, Muslim, and Jewish quarters. This song, albeit towards the end, gave me the biggest feeling of the album being geared towards a more Middle Eastern feeling album. It was chaotic, yet serene (with the violins and violas), which gave me the perfect roundabout to my favorites list this time around.
Okay now who is this album right for? That’s difficult to say. If you have realized by now with my articles, I try to get you to break away from the norm, and try something new. This album is no different in that intention and I think it is another cornerstone in the new era of music we are experiencing. I hear often that Pink Floyd fans are also potential Volta Fans, so I encourage those readers to do the do, and get your hands on a copy of this great album. The hard work and struggle and despair that the band went through to bring this album to us, is something to be admired.
If nothing else, listen to the lovely one two three punch of Ilyena, Wax Simulacra, and Goliath (that is, third fourth and fifth tracks). Not only do the songs link up, to make it seem like one giant song, a structure the band is loved for, but I also believe it to be the best section of the album to give you the concept of the themes attempting to be on display. This album was a bedlam indeed, so make it a point to check out The Bedlam in Goliath. Until next time my friends.
Oh and by the way, I have about two more 2008 reviews in me (probably Ne-Yo and The Raconteurs), before moving on to 2009, with my first new year’s article on Franz Ferdinand’s new album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.