The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath
Record Label: Universal Motown Records
Release Date: January 29, 2008
For years The Mars Volta have been an enigmatic and threatening act on modern music, creating a very distinct and crazed sound that has gone unparalleled since their conception in 2001. Listening to The Mars Volta can be enlightening and frustrating at the same time. Their vicious and often frantic blend of progressive rock, Latin, and jazz leaves often leaves listeners bewildered and confused. But the band subconsciously amazes us, forcing hits to the repeat button again and again.
The Bedlam in Goliath is the group’s fourth studio album and a concept album based around the band’s bizarre experiences with a Ouija board that guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez purchased for vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala on a trip. While on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2006, the band made it a post-show ritual to play with the board, which they referred to as “The Soothsayer” (also a track name on The Bedlam in Goliath). The more the band interacted with the Soothsayer, the more misfortune they saw. The band faced obstacles ranging from flooded studios to foot surgeries to the band’s touring drummer quitting mid-tour.
The band used these experiences to craft the concept for The Bedlam in Goliath, the group’s best and most cohesive effort since 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium. The band aimed to "undo the curses of the Soothsayer" by recording this album, which according to Bixler-Zavala, “did not want to be recorded.”
Musically, this album is no different from their past releases. The guitars are jaw-dropping, as guitarists Rodriguez-Lopez, along with Paul Hinojos and the Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante are nothing short of an all-star line-up of guitarists. Also notable is the band’s new drummer, Thomas Pridgen. Pridgen joined the band in 2007 after the original drummer, Jon Theodore, left the band.
Songs such as “Wax Simulacra” and “Goliath” are back-to-basics for the group, showcasing the urgency and intensity found on De-Loused in the Comatorium. “Wax Simulacra,” also the bands first single, is just shy of three minutes, which could be considered a rarity among a discography that seen its share of songs as long as 16 minutes. Despite the fact that the rhythm section on this song is impeccable, in all reality, this is not a good choice for a single. At the same time, I highly doubt that the band is in it for the hit singles. Other standout moments on the album include "Ilyena," which is one of the group's catchiest and most accessible songs to date and could have very well served as the first single. "Soothsayer" is a nine-minute epic complete with the standard Volta jam session and even an Islamic call to prayer in the introduction.
Many fans seem to have become jaded with the group due to their previous efforts Frances the Mute and Amputechture, where the songs grew in length, and the band began to experiment with new sounds and ambiance. On The Bedlam in Goliath the band seems to have a strong focus on writing songs again, which may prevent any boredom while listening to the album and keep you listening to the album without skipping around.
To sum up, the band is a tighter unit than it has been in a long time, and with this release, they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. One can only hope that they keep cranking out records like this one.