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View Full Version : The Mars Volta -- The Bedlam in Goliath


DethMaiden
02-09-2008, 06:20 PM
http://www.progarchives.com/Progressive_rock_discography_includes/thumbnail.asp?FileName=c:\inetpub\wwwroot\www.prog archives.com\progressive_rock_discography_covers\1 033/cover_840202112008.jpg&size=250

As of 2005's brilliant Frances the Mute, The Mars Volta appeared to be the shining light in progressive rock and the band capable of carrying the torch deep into the new millenium. That was then, and this is now.

Unfortunately, The Bedlam in Goliath, much like last year's Systematic Chaos by Dream Theater, is everything wrong with progressive music. The songs (if you can call the tracks on here songs) are prog- for-the-sake-of-prog exercises in self-indulgence that are more concerned with vocal and guitar pyrotechnics than creating memorable pieces of music. While Frances the Mute showed the myriad of influences the Mars Volta draw from, The Bedlam in Goliath serves only to show that they have loads of talent but seem to have forgotten how to use it.

From overambitious opening number "Aberinkula" through overdramatic album closer "Conjugal Burns", damn near everything on this album feels forced. There are moments of brilliance on just about every song, but they are so mired in the off-kilter time signatures and indecipherable shrieks of voice and instrument alike that you're unwilling to listen through the crap to find them. Unusual instruments are used completely annoyingly and are totally forced, whereas in the past TMV had a use for every second of time they occupied with their sound.

Maybe the saddest part of this album is the drastic decline in Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocals. In the past he could channel equal parts soulful and frantic, but now he seems exclusively concerned with proving what high notes he can hit, and how well he knows how to use his effects processor. Alas, gone is the beauty of "The Widow" and the controlled chaos of "L'via L'viaquez", replaced with a dog-whistle singing deliberately obtuse lyrics. And if you liked the Mars Volta's flirtation with Latin-flavored music, both in their Santana-esque interludes and Spanish lyrics, kiss that goodbye as well.

It is a sad day when one of the finest bands in prog puts out a piece of overly technical tripe with virtually no replay value, but I have to be honest in my reviews, and honesty requires me to recommend this album only to collectors and fans. Even then, meh. This will probably turn out to be my biggest disappointment of the year.

powerslave_85
02-09-2008, 06:32 PM
deliberately obtuse lyricsThis is one of the many things that keep me from getting into this band. NONE OF THEIR LYRICS MAKE A SHRED OF GODDAMNED SENSE. I don't mind when lyrics are a little abstract or bizarre, but these guys take it to a whole other level of incomprehensible bullshit. “The kiosk in my temporal lobe is shaped like Rosalynn Carter.” THAT DOESN'T FUCKING MEAN ANYTHING!!!

zgodt
02-10-2008, 08:46 AM
Are you unfamiliar with Amputechture? It seems weird to contrast this album with Frances the Mute while ignoring the album they put out in between.

Amputechture is pretty great, if you skip the first and last songs.

I've only heard "Wax Simulacra" so far from the new one, but I thought it kicked ass.

DethMaiden
02-10-2008, 12:10 PM
Are you unfamiliar with Amputechture? It seems weird to contrast this album with Frances the Mute while ignoring the album they put out in between.

Amputechture is pretty great, if you skip the first and last songs.

I've only heard "Wax Simulacra" so far from the new one, but I thought it kicked ass.

I've heard Amputechture, but am admittedly not as familiar with it as Frances the Mute. It's fair to say that it's an intermediate step between the styles I hear on Frances and Bedlam though.

And yeah, Wax Simulacra is one of the couple highlights on the album.

zgodt
02-12-2008, 10:34 AM
"The songs (if you can call the tracks on here songs) are prog- for-the-sake-of-prog exercises in self-indulgence that are more concerned with vocal and guitar pyrotechnics than creating memorable pieces of music."

If that doesn't describe "Cassandra Gemini" from Frances the Mute, then I don't know what does.

Now listening to "Metatron" off the new album. I have to say, I think it's really fucking good, and a lot less obtuse-sounding than most of Frances the Mute, which to me is the Mars Volta at their most over-indulgent.

But hey... to each his own.

DethMaiden
02-12-2008, 10:36 AM
"The songs (if you can call the tracks on here songs) are prog- for-the-sake-of-prog exercises in self-indulgence that are more concerned with vocal and guitar pyrotechnics than creating memorable pieces of music."

If that doesn't describe "Cassandra Gemini" from Frances the Mute, then I don't know what does.

Now listening to "Metatron" off the new album. I have to say, I think it's really fucking good, and a lot less obtuse-sounding than most of Frances the Mute, which to me is the Mars Volta at their most over-indulgent.

But hey... to each his own.

:eyes:

I feel the opposite.

zgodt
02-12-2008, 10:38 AM
:eyes:

I feel the opposite.

You don't think the 4 minute stretches of ambient noise all over Frances the Mute are a little... excessive?

Or that one 35 minute song with 0 tempo changes and 0 key changes is a little... preposterous?

DethMaiden
02-12-2008, 10:39 AM
You don't think the 4 minute stretches of ambient noise all over Frances the Mute are a little... excessive?

Or that one 35 minute song with 0 tempo changes and 0 key changes is a little... preposterous?

I like ambient music.

And I really like Cassandra Gemini because it reminds me of Echoes.

zgodt
02-12-2008, 01:50 PM
I like ambient music.

And I really like Cassandra Gemini because it reminds me of Echoes.

Well, okay, more power to you... but do you see my point? It's hard to argue they've gotten more "prog-for-prog's-sake" since FTM...

DethMaiden
02-12-2008, 04:58 PM
Well, okay, more power to you... but do you see my point? It's hard to argue they've gotten more "prog-for-prog's-sake" since FTM...

Well I liked that the FTM songs have breathing room, whereas the entirety of Bedlam feels downright claustrophobic, like if they snuck one more riff in the album would explode.

SomewhereInTime72
02-12-2008, 06:28 PM
THIS BAND HAS ALWAYS BEEN FALSE PROG

zgodt
02-13-2008, 05:48 AM
THIS BAND HAS ALWAYS BEEN FALSE PROG

Good for them. Death to "true prog"!!!

zgodt
02-14-2008, 09:34 AM
Brad = crackhead. This album is amazing.

DethMaiden
02-14-2008, 09:46 AM
Brad = crackhead. This album is amazing.

:lol: I guess I'll keep listening and try to change my mind, but with this kind of thing, if it hasn't hooked you in the first few listens, it probably won't.

zgodt
02-29-2008, 10:13 PM
So... I just now started to write my own review of this album, but then something occurred to me. Writing extensive record reviews is tedious. Well, especially if you have a lot of little things you want to point out and discuss. This album has so many little things going on, so many informing influences (from, say, contemporary arabian dance pop to classic Rush, at least to my ear), so many little moments of brilliance, that to encapsulate them all would take longer than it takes to listen to the album.

So just a couple things...

There's still plenty of latin influence on this record. Not in Spanish lyrics or Santana-esque solos, as Brad has noted -- but in rhythm and percussion the influence is pervasive. And wonderful. I mean, the latinesque beats of certain parts of Metatron, or Ilyena, or Ourobouros, are dynamic and gripping.

It's true that Cedric doesn't have a soulful vocal showcase piece on this album a la "The Widow" or "Televators." The requisite 'mellow track' turns out to be the rather lame and forgettable "Tourniquet Man." (I never said the album was perfect.) But his singing is just fine -- and occasionally exquisite, as it is throughout "Ilyena."

I don't get what Brad's complaining about when he calls the album "prog for prog's sake" or refers to the "songs, if you can call them songs." I find all of the songs on the album to be tightly crafted and coherent. (And hell, it was always a strange criticism anyway, coming from a self-professed fan of Colors by Between the Buried and Me, the most "throw as many riffs in the pot as we can" album that I've ever heard). The aforementioned "Ilyena" is as tight and catchy as a pop song, albeit with far more challenging tonalities. "Wax Simulacra" rocks as hard as anything I've ever heard, and is over in 2 1/2 minutes. "Goliath" is extensive, but moves through 2 distinct phases (the deep funk phase and the speedy bluesy latin-drum-driven phase), each of which basically conforms to a classic and accessible verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus arrangement. Even the most experiment songs on the album -- e.g., "Cavalletas" (with its weird trail-off-and-reignite dynamic during the middle section) & "Askepios" (with its unprecedentedly dissonant/cinematic opening sequences leading into another bout of deep funk grooving) -- have an internal coherence that makes perfect sense and sounds delicious.

And damnit, it looks like I just wrote one of those tedious album reviews in spite of myself. So apologies to those who don't like to read the long-winded, and kudos to all who give this album a chance to grow on you. It is a marvel... to my mind, probably The Mars Volta's best album to date.

DethMaiden
03-01-2008, 01:49 PM
You definitely make good points, but I mentioned that it isn't the lack of interesting elements, it's the poor use of them. I love Colors because I don't feel like the styles they're blending are forced, whereas on Bedlam I can hear lots of styles and no coherence. That's just me though.

And "Wax Simulacra" is a completely brilliant song, but evidence that the type of insanity they try to pull off is only tolerable in 2.5 minute doses.

DethMaiden
03-27-2008, 07:28 AM
So just for the record, this album has grown on me a good deal. I still don't think it's terrific but once I learned to stomach the style, I realized that they pull it off pretty well. I still prefer their songs to have breathing room, but this isn't a shitty album by any means (anymore).