1. Son et Lumiere (1:35)
2. Inertiatic ESP (4:24)
3. Roulette Dares (The Haunt of) (7:31)
4. Tira Me a las Arañas (1:29)
5. Drunkship of Lanterns (6:20)
6. Eriatarka (7:06)
7. Cicatriz ESP (12:29)
8. This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed (4:58)
9. Televators (6:19)
10. Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt (8:42)
Cedric Bixler-Zavala – vocals
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – guitars
Juan Alderete – bass
Flea – bass
Jon Theodore – drums
Ikey Isaiah Owens – keyboards
Jeremy Michael Ward – sounds
After inaugurating my blog with a series of reviews of classic albums ranging from the late Sixties to the early Eighties, now it is time for me to tackle a modern classic – one of the albums that, in my view, define modern progressive rock, and one of the few really ground-breaking releases of the first decade of the new millennium. Like many masterpieces, it is a divisive effort, and the band itself – the brilliantly-named The Mars Volta, a bunch of extremely gifted musicians led by volcanic guitarist and composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – almost a textbook definition of the expression ‘an acquired taste’. On the other hand, it is undeniable that the release of De-Loused in the Comatorium set new standards for contemporary prog.
This album was not my first experience with The Mars Volta (TMV for short). On the strength of some very positive reviews, some months before I had bought Frances the Mute, which I immediately loved in spite of its shortcomings. However, De-loused in the Comatorium, the Hispanic-American band’s first full-length recording, is quite a different story – one of those almost perfect debut albums that it is often impossible (or at least very difficult) for a band to top.
Hate them or love them, it is hard to deny that The Mars Volta are progressive in the true sense of the word. Born from the ashes of post-hardcore band At The Drive-in, they are not afraid to take elements from such disparate genres as prog, punk, metal, jazz and Latin music, and throw them together in a metaphorical blender, stamping their individual seal over the end result. The band’s display of dazzling musicianship, left-field lyrical concepts, stunning cover art (courtesy of legendary graphic artist Storm Thorgerson, better known for his work with Pink Floyd) and no-holds-barred songwriting are the hallmarks of a first-rate outfit that is ready to push prog – that stereotypically earnest, stuck-in-a-time-warp musical genre – right into the 21st century.
Most of the tracks on this album are over the 5-minute mark, with “Cicatriz Esp” clocking in at over 12 minutes. Both band mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala wanted to expand their horizons after leaving At the Drive-In, as shown by the clear influence of such giants of progressive rock as King Crimson and Rush. In time-honoured prog tradition, De-Loused… is also a concept album, relating the tale of Cerpin Taxt’s week-long, drug-induced coma and subsequent suicide (a story inspired by the death of former bandmate Julio Venegas).
Even if Omar and Cedric’s original punk roots rear their heads every now and then, they add a measure of spice to the exotic mixture that is TMV’s sound. The musicianship is first-rate throughout, with a special mention for inventive, powerful drummer Jon Theodore, whose rhythmic sparring partner is on this occasion a very special guest, Michael Balzary aka Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fame (one of the best four-stringers on the market, even if you are not too keen on his mother band). The crisp, clear production values further enhance Theodore’s intricate, occasionally explosive drumming, as immediately shown by killer opener “Inertiatic ESP” (preceded by the deceptive quiet of “Son and Lumière).
In my personal opinion, though, the real strength of TMV lies in the supercharged vocals of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, whose banshee wail, interspersed with more reflective, almost lyrical moments, provided a textbook example of really expressive singing. A richer, fuller version of Geddy Lee, he stamps his mark all over the album, perfectly complemented by his partner in crime Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s wildly atmospheric guitar playing. Unlike on follow-up Frances the Mute, here the band keep the use of weird, electronic noises to a minimum, with epic “Cicatriz ESP” ‘s middle section being a prime example of how such sounds can be used sparingly to their maximum effect.
With such an overall strong album, it would be difficult for me to pick any standout tracks, apart from those I have already mentioned. Haunting ballad “Televators” is a much better effort in this sense than “The Widow” on Frances the Mute; while “Eriatarka”, “This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed” and album closer “Take the Veil, Cerpin Taxt” brim with energy and freshness, Cedric’s manically brilliant vocals soaring above the band’s unleashed instrumental fury.
A brash, loud, yet sophisticated statement of intent, De-Loused in the Comatorium was clearly not conceived with mass appeal in mind – even if The Mars Volta have become a relatively successful act in their field. This is thoroughly modern progressive rock, and a must-listen for all serious devotees of the genre – weird and wonderful, and a really wild ride, but also one to enjoy to the fullest.