The Bedlam In Goliath

"The manner in which the group weave complex musical tapestries is certainly impressive from a purely technical perspective, but you suspect that they were a lot more fun to assemble than they are to listen to."

Hands up who remembers the heady days of the early 2000s, when we were all about the new millennium, Spaced and Gwen Stefani? It was also at this time that the word ‘emo’ came into the popular vocabulary, largely due to the hardcore stylings of At The Drive In, who literally exploded onto the scene with ‘One Armed Scissor’. Sadly, they imploded soon after.

Enter the Mars Volta, originally begun by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez as an offshoot, but rapidly assuming the same hallowed status as their previous project. Their debut, Relationship Of Command, invigorated the scene as never before, with its distinctive, pleading vocals and music which tore the rock rulebook to shreds.

You’d be forgiven for thinking they were onto something generation-defining. Yet it turned to be something of a damp squib, with the hardcore/emo sound overshadowed by MTV-friendly bands like The Used. MV’s subsequent albums never quite reached the same standard as their debut, meaning that crossover success has continued to elude them.

Their fourth album is another doggedly leftfield offering – there’s even a corresponding super-trendy online game, and a 3000-word essay about the making of the record entitled The Mars Volta’s Descent into Bedlam: A Rhapsody in Three Parts.

The album’s an easy one for fans to love, from the driving sounds of ‘Goliath’ (which gives more than a passing nod to their cohorts the Red Hot Chili Peppers), to the moshpit-friendly ‘Metatron’. Yet it’s proof that there is a definite price to pay for relentless sonic experimentation. The manner in which the group weave these complex musical tapestries is certainly impressive from a purely technical perspective, but you suspect that they were a lot more fun to assemble than they are to listen to. That the intro to ‘Cavalettas’ is the most radio-friendly moment of the LP says it all.

Throughout, tempo shifts and sudden chord changes are the norm – but, ultimately, it’s difficult not to admire Mars Volta’s stubborn refusal to conform to indie rock orthodoxy.

 

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