By Marty Finley
The Mars Volta is one of the most mysterious, and interesting, bands on the planet, and on their new album, The Bedlam in Goliath, this only continues.Composed primarily of vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Savala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez, the duo began the project as a progressive escape from their primal punk band, At the Drive-In.
The Mars Volta got their start in 2003 with De-Loused in the Comatorium, a confusing, dense album with odd titles, odder lyrics and music that would make progressive bands like Rush sound simple in comparison (though Bixler-Savala sounds similar to Geddy Lee).
The band became a cult hit and released their much anticipated follow-up, Frances the Mute, in 2005. The album was a departure from the music of the first album, as it incorporated Latin rhythms and a definite Santana influence, using flamenco guitar and conga drums to make the music downright danceable.
It also slowed some of the songs down to a crawl compared to their first album, while including a 30-minute jam session at the end.
2006’s Amputechture brought back the speed and fury of De-Loused, but upped the tempo and made the songs even more progressive.
The plans started on Amputechture have continued on The Bedlam in Goliath. But the band has varied the approach slightly, making songs shorter (though many still clock in over 8 minutes) and providing a mix of all their old music.
Aberinkula begins the album with a bang as it sounds like an army of mice chanting with explosions sounding all around them. Bixler-Savala uses voice manipulation on many of the songs, and it might be most obvious on this one.
The song’s engaging use of electronics, guitars and horns is simultaneously overwhelming and welcoming. The song also has a definite Middle Eastern vibe.
Metatron begins immediately afterward (the two songs run together with no pause) and keeps the speed of the first song, while slightly simplifying things.
The song has more of a standard rock feel, albeit mutated rock and roll made by what seem to be Martians.
Most of the songs follow this blueprint as the band, which has expanded to include multiple instruments and musicians, speed toward a fiery crash as each instrument is played at a furious pace.
And feedback and dissonance are used, primarily by the guitarists, to further add to the feeling the band will explode and your stereo (or computer) will catch fire.
But the band does not just deal with acrobatic feats of musicianship. They allow the listener moments of quiet when the band slows everything down to build everything back up. It gives the listener a breather and builds expectations for the eventual eruption.
The simplicity is on best display on one of the best songs on the album, Tourniquet Man. The song is less than three minutes long, but its simplistic music and powerful chorus (led by Bixler-Savala’s voice rather than the music) make it a standout track
The band is no closer to being understood, though.
Each album is shrouded in mystery with cryptic art and lyrics that sound good, but yield little meaning.
And many albums have concepts behind them. Frances the Mute was supposedly about a friend’s diary while Goliath’s lyrics surround ideas behind an intriguing Ouija-style board the group found in Jerusalem known as the Soothsayer.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, The Mars Volta is worth your time. While it is not for the casual music listener, those who are looking for something engaging and different need look no farther.