Mars Volta brings energy to ‘Bedlam’

The Bedlam in Goliath, released Jan. 29, is a return to the sound that made The Mars Volta loved by fans.By Jordan Blum

The Mars Volta, the most well known act in this generation’s rebirth of progressive rock, certainly is prolific. In fewer than three years, the band has released three studio albums, as well as embarked on lengthy and intense
touring schedules.

Fans proclaimed the first two albums works of frenzied genius, while 2006’s Amputechture met with universal disappointment, showing a lack of ambition. The fourth record, The Bedlam in Goliath, is a surprising breath of fresh air, showing a return to the form that made the band so great in the first place.

The most significant change in the band’s lineup is the replacement of drummer Jon Theodore by Thomas Pridgen, who plays like he was born with the sticks attached to his hands. Once again we have Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist John Frusciante adding compliments to Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s rapid licks. Sadly, his band mate Flea has not returned to add his skillful bass and trumpet playing. The rest of the crew continues to show that, regardless of personal taste, denying this group’s jaw-dropping level of musicianship and energy is impossible.

Bedlam’s history is worth noting. On a trip to Jerusalem, mastermind Rodriguez-Lopez bought singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala a Ouija board, which they named “The Soothsayer.” It quickly became a post-show ritual. Oddly, the group began to discover the board was giving them bad luck. Rodriguez-Lopez eventually buried it and prohibited any mention of it during the rest of the recording process.

Thankfully, this brought one of the needed regressions for the band: a central theme and recurring characters (which Amputechture had been missing). The character of Goliath is mentioned several times throughout, and the band has stated that the lyrics, confounding as ever, do reveal a jumbled story.

As for the LP itself, it begins with a bang and launches the listener back into The Mars Volta’s world. “Metatron,” like the concluding portion of “Cassandra Gemini” from Frances, has a melody so engaging that it demands head-banging. The ballad, “Tourniquet Man,” is quiet and slightly depressing, like “Televators” from De-loused.

To be more direct, Bedlam brings back some welcome things absent on the last release. The melodies are back to being in-your-face, as is the music, and while the wasteful periods of space from Frances are still gone, the tracks are back to abrupt changes midway into brand new songs. It is not easy to know when a new song begins unless you are looking at the CD player’s display. Also, the absurdity of the vocal manipulation from the first two releases has returned, if only rarely.

The Bedlam in Goliath is simply a fantastic way to start off another year of progressive rock releases. The Mars Volta was never a band to simply emulate those who came before them (though comparisons to King Crimson and The Mahavishnu Orchestra are valid). Instead they bring a unique Hispanic flair and energy to the complex
field that guarantees them to be a major influence to the next decade’s
newcomers.

This fourth release doesn’t have the sheer originality of De-loused or the genius continuity of Frances, but it is much more interesting and engaging than Amputechture. It is definitely a must-own for fans and all lovers of complex, frantic music.

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