The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath
Record Label: Universal Motown Records
Release Date: January 29, 2008
If I were Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the guitarist/composer for the progressive outfit The Mars Volta, I probably would have consulted my Ouija board before writing this album review. Luckily for me, however, I’ve never dabbled in the occult. But then again, I didn’t take part in the writing of the fantastical The Bedlam in Goliath, either. In fact, when it comes to it, my name shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same paragraph as his. Rodriguez-Lopez has his own thoughts on the album: "It's all true. Years from now, I might change my opinion. Maybe at 40, at 50, at 60, I might say, 'Oh, it really was just my subconscious.' Or I might more than ever believe in what we went through.” What Rodriguez-Lopez is referring to in this recent OC Register interview is the depths of the undertaking of the band’s newest record, The Bedlam in Goliath. To say the least, the record is far reaching and canvasses almost an entire musical spectrum, from Latin infused jazz to technical guitar riffing. Most important, however, the record was inspired by Omar-Rodriguez and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s experience with a Ouija board. However, the details of the situation are irrelevant, as is the cause. Regardless of how it happened, it did happen, and that’s all that matters.
The first track “Aberinkula” jars the listener with upright intensity. Atop groovy drum beats, psychedelic guitar work, and hallucinatory electronics, Bixler-Zavala’s vocals burst through with blessed clarity. Attributed chiefly to his often shrill, falsetto tinged vocals, his voice is as distinct as they come. “Metatron” highlights Bixler-Zavala’s voice even more thoroughly, and despite the fast pace, it slightly reminds me of Rage Against the Machine. However, as will be the case on most of the album, I can’t decide what blows my mind more—the drumming or the guitar work. “Ilyena” finds Rodriguez-Lopez’s vocals masked behind a shroud of eerie effects—not graveyard eerie, but more like a magnetic-anomaly-that-turns-the-sky-purple-eerie. “Wax Simulcra” underscores the band’s heavier punk influence and is brief by The Mars Volta standards, unlike the albums literal giant of a song, “Goliath,” which boasts a seemingly relaxed introduction before breaking out into a series of nervous verses, choruses, and solos before entering pure a controlled musical chaos, which has Rodriguez-Lopez haranguing the audience with the discourse of a doomsday preacher. “Tourniquet Man” acts as a spooky buffer before entering into the nine-plus minute long “Cavalettas,” pinned with stops and fades while shifting from movement to movement. “Agadez” brought me back to De-Loused in the Comatorium with the catchier verse and Latin oriented interlude, whereas “Askepious” often sounds like the climax to a science fiction movie while The Mars Volta burn to a crisp in the background. “Ourborous” offers much in the theater of heaviness with its driving guitars and bass lines, and “Soothsayer” adds sprinkles of Arabic influence and purges some of the best lyrics of the album in addition to providing the audience with a nearly two-minute long closing of a church chorus singing hymns. Finally, the album breaths its last with “Conjugal Burns,” featuring disturbingly distorted vocals from some dead and bothered spirit before Rodriguez-Lopez takes the lead, closing, “You’ll wear those healing damns down to a plug.”
Abstract and forward-thinking, The Bedlam in Goliath is as good as they come. Even the scoffers can’t help but to appreciate the technicality and sheer creativity with which the band operates. Although brevity may not be the band’s strong point (ten of the twelve songs are five minutes or longer), and some songs may reach ennui, they are able to pull it off with upstanding originality and musicianship. The band is able to exact their craft with each note and furthering my belief that if one band were to create a literal music explosion, it would be The Mars Volta.