Album of the Week 49-2015: The Mars Volta – The Bedlam In Goliath

Progrock hasn’t been all that progressive anymore in recent years. It used to be about stretching the borders of Rock music, but recently, Prog bands have gotten a little too comfortable emulating the likes of King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Yes and early Genesis. This is exactly why it’s a shame that The Mars Volta broke up: their music truly seemed to be borderless. Guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala combined their Post-Hardcore background with elements of Fusion, Funk, Latin and electronic music into a highly original and surprisingly listenable blend. Highly intricate, but listenable. Especially on ‘The Bedlam In Goliath’.

In a way, ‘The Bedlam In Goliath’ is The Mars Volta’s heaviest album. Throughout their history, the band has relied quite heavily on contrasting quite and loud to great success. But while most of the songs on an album like ‘Frances The Mute’ are amazing, the quieter sections could have used some trimming. To keep it simple: they did. ‘The Bedlam In Goliath’ is based mainly on the crazy riff work by Rodríguez-López and former Peppers guitarist John Frusciante as well as the crazy, but remarkably Funky rhythms of bassist Juan Alderete and mind blowing drummer Thomas Pridgen.

Yes, the music manages to be busy and intricate, but Funky at the same time. As a result, the album turns out to be The Mars Volta’s most groove-driven record yet. For instance, the groove in ‘Ilyena’ is irresistible, even though it’s only marginally less busy than the rest of the album. Some songs – like the long ‘Cavalettas’ or the album’s sole quieter moment ‘Tourniquet Man’ – really only get their weirdness from Paul Hinojos’ sound manipulation; especially the former is rather straightforward rhythmically otherwise. The sound manipulation is sometimes on the verge of making things too abrasive, but it’s also a highly original and defining aspect of the record.

Although albums like these are really meant to be listened to in one sitting – most of the songs flow into each other – there are some standout tracks to be found. ‘Metatron’ is an early one due to the way it manages to work its way to exciting climaxes even without the quiet-loud contrast. The surprisingly accessible title track never feels like seven minutes. ‘Ouroborous’ has some amazing riff work and the following ‘Soothsayer’ has this exciting atmosphere due to the inclusion of vaguely Middle Eastern sounding strings. Dark stuff, but it’s fantastic.

The Mars Volta is really one of the very few exciting bands in recent Progressive Rock history. Their music manages to surprise on a regular basis, which is exactly what the genre set out to do in the beginning. The upside is that Rodríguez-López can actually write songs, which makes the record a delight to listen to, even though the mastering is a little too loud sometimes. The band’s eclectic approach means that people from such diverse bands as King Crimson, Santana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers may find something of their liking on the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ouroborous’, ‘Soothsayer’, ‘Ilyena’

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