Rising from the ruins of the "underground" "cult" band At The Drive-In, which will be reuniting for this year's Coachella Festival, the appearance of The Mars Volta brought a sound that was a conglomeration of many obvious influences, from the music of Latin America and Mexico to punk to metal to King Crimson and Led Zeppelin and a whole lot more, but configured in a distinctive and unique way.
Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez creates the complex, multi-layered sounds that run through varied time signatures and move quickly from slow tempo introspection to piledriving, bonecrushing intensity from measure to measure while vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala crafts dense, impressionistic lyrics that can generally appear to be imcomprehensible, while delivered in a high-pitched soaring vocal style. While these two are the leaders of The Mars Volta, they have been supported by excellent musicians, including regular members and guests.
Their first full-length record is 2003's De-loused in the Comatorium, which is a concept album, though it would hardly be deciphered by the listener if the concept was not explained in a review or interview. It has to do with the institutionalization of a late friend of Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler Zavala and the horrors associated with it. Whether or not the prospect of trying to understand the lyrics, song titles, and the album's concept are worth the effort or not, the instrumental aspects, including Bixler Zavala's vocalising, are well worth a listen on their own.
In addition to the guitarist and vocalist, regular members of the group at the time were drummer Jon Theodore, whose stamina, power and inventiveness are impressive, keyboardist Ikey Isaiah Owens, and percussionist Jeremy Michael Ward (whose brother, Jim, was a member of At The Drive-In with Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler Zavala.) The two guests are the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, a great bassist who plays throughout the album, and the scintillating guitarist John Frusciante, whose solos on "Cicatriz ESP" are trememdous.
The track that most stands out for YHB is "Drunkship of Lanterns," thogh "Inertiatic ESP," "Cicatriz ESP," "Televators," and "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" are also great songs (good luck deciphering the song titles, though.) As said before, the playing is excellent throughout and the complex rhythms laid down by Flea and Theodore establish a solid base from which everything is built. Rodriguez-Lopez produced the record with the legendary Rick Rubin and special note should be given to Rich Costey's mix, which really makes the most of the variety of textures and sounds laid down on the album.
There'll be further mention of The Mars Volta on this blog, but De-loused in the Comatorium retains that feeling of great surprise in discovery of something truly new that is rarely duplicated. It's an ambitious, fascinating, complex, challenging, confounding and powerful album, and, even if the concept, lyrics and song titles might be problematic for some, the music alone is worth the attention of the adventurous listener.
The Mars Volta: De-loused in the Comatorium
Son Et Lumiere 1:35
Inertiatic ESP 4:24
Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of) 9:31
Tira Me a las Arañas 1:29
Drunkship of Lanterns 6:20
Cicatriz ESP 12:29
This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed 4:58
Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt 8:42