Review Summary: With 'album rock' on life support, Relationship of Command delivers a last rite that doesn't send the soul to slumber but instead threatens to reanimate the dead.
The Trojan Horse imagery gracing the cover of At The Drive-In
's seminal third (and final) album was more than mere album art. It was an alarm call ... a conspicuous warning that the contents were under severe pressure. But like the Trojans, no one would be prepared for the ensuing attack.
If it is ridiculous to label an album not only post-punk but also post-rock, post-hardcore and emo -- and clearly it is
ridiculous -- then this is post-lunacy. Emo may be the most bruised and battered genre in modern music, but there's little doubt that At The Drive-In are a prototypical (not typical!) emotional band. The fact that they transcend that moniker with helpings of punk, classic rock and hardcore is no accident. The fact that they sit nearly alone a top of heap of failed revisionists is simply bad luck. Yet, ATDI do not invent or reinvent here as much as they amplify and multiply to great effect. With 'album rock' on life support, Relationship of Command
delivers a last rite that doesn't send the soul to slumber but instead threatens to reanimate the dead.
On previous -- and excellent -- releases In/Casino Out (1998)
and Vaya (1999)
, ATDI had recorded inspired efforts that laid foundation for their otherworldly post-something
fusion. But these sets would only hint at the devastating knockout blows delivered in spades by Relationship of Command
Deciding if Cedric Bixler-Zavala's lyrical assaults are the result of stream of consciousness, stoned inner monologue or complete bull*** seems irrelevant here. Bixler and guitarist/vocalist Jim Ward deliver them with such conviction that snapshots like "hypodermic people poking fun at the living"
or "position the stitches like miles of torpedoes"
simply take their turn in a hurried procession of visceral images provoked throughout. This lyrical imagery peaks with the quasi-political spoken word of Invalid Letter Dept; where a fist-pumping chorus precedes a zenith of bone-chilling screams and Zeppelin-sized riffing to create the most compelling moment on the album.
Not to rest on his afro of laurels, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez does not skimp on additional king-sized riffs. It begins with blistering opener Arcarsenal and rarely takes more than a quick breath until the Bjork-flavored haunt of Non-Zero Possibility brings things breathlessly to a shutter. In between, Iggy Pop plays a fitting guest star, making memorable appearances on both Enfilade and Rolodex Propaganda.
While the band remains just under the radar of nationwide saturation, One Armed Scissor now blares on college campuses across the US. Literally exploding into existence, it continues on to play loud-soft-loud to perfection. But tucked away near the end of the album, it is the brooding, bombastic Cosmonaut that finds At The Drive-In playing their quintessential song. Bixler snarls and bellows over Tony Hajjar's popping snares and Lopez and Ward weave around Paul Hinojos' thundering bass riffs. The resulting behemoth stands out -- a giant among giants -- on one of the essential rock and roll albums of the century.