Review Summary: The Mars Volta come to the game with a clear head and a seamless plan, but the execution ruins what could have been a brilliant album.
This may sound strange, but whenever I think of The Mars Volta
, I immediately think of communism. It has nothing to do with Omar’s dictatorial command of the band: rather, it’s more about the band as a whole. For me, the concept of The Mars Volta has always seemed similar to that of communism: a good idea in theory, but poorly executed. On paper, the idea of prog mixed with post hardcore and jazz while being transcribed by eight absolutely fantastic musicians sounds unbelievable. In the real world, however, it falls on its face. Yes the group has released some spectacular tracks (Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus, Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt), but they’ve also released songs that could be described as crimes against music (This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed, El Ciervo Vulnerado). So, where does The Bedlam In Goliath
fit into all of this?
Well, let me say this: Before this record, I was very adamant about not hating the Mars Volta. I wasn’t a fan of Amputechture
in any regard, but I still had hope for this record. The leaked tracks I had heard had me convinced that this couldn’t be that bad of a record. Unfortunately, after downloading the leak and sitting down for its seventy-six minute duration, I must relay that my experience with The Bedlam in Goliath
felt something like a bout of horrendous constipation: plenty of grunting and swearing, occasional moments of brief release, and, at certain intervals, tears.
In short, The Bedlam In Goliath made me hate The Mars Volta.
After subsequent listens, my initial anger subsided, only to be replaced by an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. But why? What makes this such an dissapointing album? Well, to get an idea of what this album sounds like, play Amputechture
through your left speaker and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music
through your right speaker. Somewhere down the line, Mr. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (the group’s lead guitarist and composer) decided that the best way to improve their music was to drown every single song in feedback, “ambient wah” and annoying electronic effects. Underneath almost every single song, you can hear what essentially sounds like Omar scratching his guitar with a nail file while filtering it through a vacuum and 10 random effect pedals. It’s an effect that ruins otherwise decent songs like “Metatron”, whose structure is overall solid but whose fillings have been stuffed to the seams to the point of breaking.
Which is probably my main problem with any Mars Volta record: there’s always way too much going on, and little of it is ever coherent. Omar himself has admitted it on several occasions: he’s ignorant of music theory, and it shows. While he’s certainly gifted at creating individual melodies, when he tries to have all eight band members playing completely separate melodies all at the same time, it ends up a bloated mess. Not that it always fails, however. “Askepios” thrives from the somewhat odd dichotomy of the two lead guitar parts. Then, two minutes later, it falls apart again after the piece begins to go nowhere, for the second time.
“Aberinkula”, at the very least, is honest with its intentions, and shows you exactly what to expect for the next seventy-six minutes: plenty of potential, but choked full of noise, unfocused melodies, and plenty of wailing. They do attempt to salvage the song about halfway through with an interesting groove. Of course, this groove only reveals another cursed enemy of my eardrums: a Mars Volta saxophone solo. While there’s nothing I love more than a good sax solo (that’s a lie, but bear with me), the band proves once again they can ruin any genre, and proceed to blare off not one, but two of the most melody-less solos you will ever hear. “Metatron” hits a brief sweet spot around 3:15, and for once you think the song is going somewhere. However, it’s no more than a tease, as not one minute later, they decide to ditch this smooth ambrosia for blaring dissonance that leaves an aftertaste something like limp hemp.
After the disappointing opening, there’s only one place the album can go. “Ilyena” feels like a reward for the listener’s patience. Struggle through the first few songs, and you emerge upon a beacon of focused melodies and irresistible groove. If it weren’t for its god-awful outro (Which sounds like a mash-up of Alvin & the Chipmunks and your CD skipping and then catching on fire), it could almost be considered the best track on the album. Instead, that that honor goes to “Wax Simulacra”. It’s odd that a two-and-a-half minute song could ever be a highlight, but that’s the idea: It boils down everything the Mars Volta do right into an easily digestible length, and makes it catchy to boot. Cohesive, dynamic, intelligent… “Wax Simulacra” may be the most listenable song on the whole album.
“Goliath” is the only other true highlight, and even it has its flaws. Yet it also has one of the most incredible crescendos you will ever witness, which make the song more than worth a listen. Sadly, after Goliath, every other track is either only average or piss-poor. “Cavelattes” falls into the latter category, for after 90 seconds of flawless post-hardcore, we have to struggle through eight minutes of absolute tripe, the majority of which consists of an extended, unconvincing hardcore breakdown interspersed by tuneless saxophones and an overabundance of vocal effects. “Soothsayer” is guilty of much of the same, in that it feels like it should carry some sort of real emotion to it, with its sweeping string score and lengthy duration. Unfortunately, while it hints at genius, more often than not is dissolves into chaos as all eight members attempt to outplay one another (much like the entire album.) There’s a moment around 4:30 where, for exactly one minute, Omar treats us to his rendition of brownsound, that conjures up the images of a painful dentist trip. Yikes.
The rest of the tracks are average enough that they don’t deserve mention (Agadez, Ourobourus) or so disappointing that I wish I didn’t have to mention them. “Tourniquet Man” begins promisingly as a haunting acoustic ballad in the vein of Asilos Magdalena. Much like that same track, by the end the vocal effects have essentially killed all emotion that was built up before it. That’s the thing; The Mars Volta keep falling into the exact same traps that ruined Amputechture, and weakened the resolve of their fanbase. This lack of evolution also shows in songs like “Ourobourus”, where the band seems to rehash melodies and drum patterns from Drunkship Of Lanterns.
Honestly, The Bedlam In Goliath
isn’t a completely terrible album. There's the makings of a great album hidden deep in here, and there are plenty of tracks that will no doubt be essential to any true Mars Volta fan. At the same time, there’s plenty of tracks that will try your patience or, even worse, downright annoy you. It’s clear that the band’s intentions are in the right place, but their execution continues to ruin whatever promise they show. If you’re a Mars Volta
fan, you’ll no doubt love this album. If you dislike the band with a seething passion, don’t expect this to change your mind. For all of its efforts, The Bedlam In Goliath is just the Mars Volta being The Mars Volta. Take that as you will.