After almost a decade of some of the densest, most challenging and generally thrilling rock music as the core of The Mars Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala took advantage of a break from working together to regroup in startingly stripped-down fashion for 2014's self-titled Antemasque.
For those used to the lengthy, complicated pieces on the several MV recordings, it is a bit of a shock to hear the shorter, simpler more direct songs on Antemasque. Steppiing away and regrouping, though, produced an album that reduces the songwriting qualities that marked the best of their work together over the years.
Long-time friend Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers let Rodriguez and Bixler use his studio and played bass, while Dave Ellitch, who toured with Mars Volta in 2009, provide the steady underpinnings of the rhythm section and play great. As for Rodriguez, his arranging and production, while stripped down, is always intriguing and full of both homage to his many influences as well as highly individualistic. Bixler's singing is strong and clear and the biggest surprise, perhaps, on Antemasque is that his lyrics are simple, direct and understandable (well, for the most part.)
Moreover, the songs are shorter, more compact, free of filler and sonically diverse, while retaining this listener's attention and interest. In fact, every piece is strong, with the most pop-like piece is easily "50,000 Kilowatts," a tribute to radio that, at 2 minutes and 21 seconds, is built be a radio-friendly single and has a chorus clearly intended to be sung by a crowd.even while there are a couple of true standouts.
The first is the phenomenal "Drown All Your Witches," which features a rare example of Rodriguez playing some really tasty acoustic guitar and Bixler provides a great melodic line and fine vocal delivery.
Following that is the mind-blowing "Providence," with a great low-end bass line from Flea and nice slowly dissolving cymbal work from Ellitch. But, the clincher is Bixler's powerful delivery of the chorus with a stuttering ending with echo added for a chilling effect.
Then, the next tune is the rousing "People Forget," with Bixler's thrilling vocal underpinned by a simple two-note line by Rodriguez and the tight rhythms of Flea and Ellitch. The coolest part of this tune to this listener is Flea's playing during the chorus, though the bridge is great, too.
Evidently there is to be a follow-up album, Saddle on the Atom Bomb, with Blink-182's Travis Barker on drums and Rodriguez' brother Marfred on bass, but, while eight songs were previewed in November 2015, nothing else has been put out about the project.
After a strong debut, let's hope the next record comes out soon