The Bedlam in Goliath – The Mars Volta
Universal Motown Records
The Mars Volta is the epitome of a band thats not for everyone, but on their latest effort, The Bedlam In Goliath, theyve arguably turned a corner with the accessibility of their music. Make no mistake, the dark, cryptic poetry and otherworldly vocal acrobatics of Cedric Bixler Zavala are as stunning as ever, and Omar Rodriguez Lopezs twitchy, bombastic riffs reach new heights as he forays into the uncharted realm of squonky prog-metal funk. But what immediately sets Bedlam apart from their previous albums, specifically Frances The Mute and Amputechture, is the conspicuous absence of their trademark chunks of feedback and ambient sounds. Whether you hailed it as ambient wizardry, or dismissed it as pretentious bullshit, its simply not present here. Instead, this time around we get 75 minutes of pummeling sonic assault with barely a moment to breathe, save for the eerie dreaminess and bizarre vocal effects of Tourniquet Man.
The only other real break comes during the first half of Askepios with its almost orchestral feel, feedback laden guitar and distorted vocals. But its all just a ruse. Halfway through the tune they drop into a wickedly nasty punch-filled groove with Juan Alderete de la Penas bassline holding it down and Cedric pleading Help me come alive! before giving way to the beginning riffs of the tight and driving Ouroborous.
The opening Aberinkula comes blasting right out of the gates as Bixler Zavala wants to know Have you seen the living/ tired of their own shells. The songs multiple parts eventually lead into a crazy latinesque hard rock duel between Omars guitar and Adrian Terrazas-Gonzales sax before Pridgens drums power us right into Metatron. Metatron is reminiscent of space travel set to an uber-fast punk rock salsa beat, and it has an infectious dance-inducing quality. One thing about Omars compositional choices, he just absolutely adores his false stops, and on this album they are executed with perfection. Just when you think a song is over, or you think theyre about to slip into some of that old trademark ambient weirdness, they laugh in your face as they go blasting back into the chorus, or sometimes even a completely new direction within the song.
On Goliath, the newly-minted blistering Volta squonk-funk is hitting full force, and for a while its basically Omar and Pridgen simultaneously ripping solos while the rest of the band plays the main theme behind them before Cedric brings them all back to the chorus. Next, the bass and drums clue us in that were heading somewhere new and that the shit is about to unfold. Omars intensely swaying lead riff builds into what is arguably Cedrics most powerful vocal performance on the album as he belts Never heard a man speak like this man before! The emotion in his voice is so full of venom that you feel compelled to jump into action when he commands Im all out of pulse, but I know you can resuscitate me! Just when you think theyve peaked for the last time and can go no further, they do, as Cedric continues wailing All the days of my life, ever since Ive been born, never heard a man speak like this man before.
One of the most endearing qualities of this band is the fact that if you simply pay attention on each listen, there is always something new to discover, yet another layer of the onion to peel back. Listen to Bedlam with headphones, or any Mars Volta album for that matter, and youll be amazed at how many different sounds there are truly happening at any given time.
The album marks another change for the group besides the lack of ambient weirdness, namely new drummer Thomas Pridgen and the drastically different style he brings compared to his predecessors. Overall, Bedlam is definitely the closest representation of the unbelievable raw power that is the Mars Volta live experience, even more so than their live album Scabdates, and Pridgen has a whole lot to do with that fact. To put it simply, the man is an absolute beast on the kit. He never, ever lets up, not even for a second. Even during the rare quiet and subdued moments, hes still pounding away like a jackhammer regardless. Pridgens style gives the entire album a very anxiety-filled and frenetic quality that, while always present in the bands sound, was never quite so pronounced. Frankly, he brings a great deal of intensity to what is already impossibly intense music.
Bedlam is undoubtedly their most danceable album to date, and if youve ever seen Cedrics spastic onstage antics, youll completely understand where hes coming from when you let these grooves infect your psyche.