Review Summary: Did you hear? Five guys from El Paso, Texas have found a way to condense pure energy and convert it into music. They call it Relationship of Command.
Like no other album I have experienced, At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command
carries an air of unceasing, animal aggression. From the opening seconds to the closing moments, this album is an ocean runneth over of pure energy. Blaring, astringent guitars and undulating bass compete with merciless drums for the forefront in the picture, only to find a common enemy in Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Jim Ward's hostile, primeval vocals. It is a constant struggle, and the results, rather than a miserable mess, are nothing short of savage beauty.
Take, for instance, the opener Arcarsenal
. As maracas rattle amid a wailing wall of guitar fuzz, the bass brings the song and album to a start proper, and Cedric just unloads upon the listener, an atonal assault on their sensibilities. The song pulsates and pounds, never letting up, never giving in for even a millisecond. The musicality on this song is top-notch, with Jim Ward and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez biting through the mix with a punishing, sharp guitar tone. Drummer Tony Hajjar and bassist Paul Hinojos provide the perfect foundation for the rest of the band, with eternally intense drumming and a strangely-danceable bass line. A final howl from every member of the band brings about an end to the track.
From this point on, the album's intensity only gets increasingly more brutal. In fact, the first nine tracks on the album are quick-paced, extreme studies in sonic energy. In this mix are the single One Armed Scissor
, perhaps the band's best known song, featuring catchy, yet driving guitar riffs and tandem vocals; Sleepwalk Capsules
is the best song on the album, for every member of the band gives the song their all, refusing to compromise, if even for the safety of its audience's hearing. Enfilade
, one of two songs to feature Iggy Pop of Stooge's fame, is a romp of extraterrestrial guitar tone, vocal effects, conceptual lyrics, and a deliciously throbbing bass line.
As well, the album holds up its beautiful aspects with Invalid Litter Dept.
, a tale of the unsolved murders in Juarez, Mexico. Cedric's most emotive lyrics and vocals are featured on this song, one moment giving a spoken-word monologue of highly personal gibberish, the next baring the remainder of his soul with brutality interwoven with an underlying magnificence. As the guitar and bass lock in with one another with a driving passage, Cedric screams as never before, an emotional highlight if there ever was one.
Alas, the ratio, in comparison, to gentle versus intense songs is severely disproportional. This seems to be the only true complaint regarding this album, from a personal standpoint. There are but three of these gentler songs to behold, including the album closer Non-Zero Possibility
. A piano-laden verse features exquisite vocals from Cedric, as well as remarkable restraint on the part of the rest of the band, when the rest of the album has been taken into account. Then, the chorus hits, the pure essence of emotion bottled into a small portion of music.
This is a truly amazing album, no question as to that. Every single second is brimming with highly focused energy in its expert form. The musicality is extremely on-point, with ever member of the band pouring their hearts, souls, and talents into the mold, and in the process creating something truly mind-blowing. Every track, from the soft to the savage, is packed with emotion, with no second of the album wasted on filler or musical waste. While all of this sets the gears in motion for an album of epic stature, I simply cannot bring myself to call this album a classic. There is some unknown aspect to the album that prevents me from looking at it this way. Perhaps it is due to the disproportional styling of the songs (which is almost certainly intentional), but I cannot see this as a timeless album. For now, the accolades of "amazing," "astonishing," and "incredible" seem to be just and more than fitting.
The first nine tracks
Cedric's incredible vocal performance
The way the band members work superiorly well, both together and individually, to
create this music
Lack of contrast between song stylings