Review Summary: De-Loused in the Comatorium is an album of scale, of ambition, and of unabashed quirkiness.
One of rock's most redeeming qualities is its volatility. There are so many differing degrees in scale, volume, and tone that it's almost absurd. Progressive rock, first sewn together by iconic acts like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush, has become one of rock's most expansive styles. Its ambiguity lies at the core of what makes the movement so stimulating. Now in the modern era, we've been met with some truly interesting bands that break the mold with their atypical, distinctive sounds. The Mars Volta is one of those groups. When the post-hardcore all stars, At the Drive-In, kicked the bucket, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, fortunately, had not run out of ideas. They also decided to branch out into a more distant sound. You can call it progressive rock; you can call it outlandish. All that matters is that the Mars Volta's debut album opens the floodgates to a fresh and compulsive musical direction.
Many facets of the Mars Volta's sound signify a clean departure from At the Drive-In. Cedric's vocals no longer carry the sharp, punk-influenced edge of his days with At the Drive-In. Rather, he allows his voice to cover a much more vast soundscape, often surprising the listener with how high his voice can actually go. His performance on "Inertiatic ESP" impressively displays both his unshackled potential as a vocalist and his monumental range. However, the Mars Volta's actual sound, in a way, is cleaner and more heavily engineered. The band adorns their instruments with swirling electronics, field recordings, and towering effects. Thus, the attentiveness to copious production gives De-Loused in the Comatorium the ability to stand tall and assert its monumental presence as a sweeping, remarkable beast. De-Loused feels controlled, but it's never tied down.
This LP tells a rather morbid tale of death and psychological implosion, though it's quite hard to tell given the vague and almost nonsensical song titles as well as the album's delightfully ambivalent mood. Imbued with frantic guitar riffs, explosive percussion, and Cedric's rich vocals, the LP is still liberating in almost every way. "Roulette Dares (The Haunt of)" quickly delivers vehement zeal, but enters the chorus by moderating its wild aesthetic with shrewd finesse. Containing one of the band's punchiest refrains in their entire catalogue, the song showcases the Mars Volta's capacity for sheer magnitude. "Eriatarka" conveys such complex emotions while delivering some of the record's most dynamic moments. Hearing the band toy with Cedric's more delicate, musing vocals alongside brief segments of clamorous sonic eruptions is not only engaging, but also evocative.
Another one of the record's relatively softer tracks is the radiant "Televators", which makes a self-effacing entrance with a medley of natural sounds, like birds, in addition to an anomalous ambience. Despite its more reserved constitution, "Televators" still hits the spot just as consistently with its looming sense of collapse. Along with their progressive approach, the Mars Volta proudly flaunt their quirks. "Drunkship of Lanterns", for instance, exposes a group of musicians who are not afraid to get weird. The track's wayward advancement employs frenzied bongos, sprawling riffs, and even some traces of looping. Though artful production is truly the glue that holds this album together, Omar and his bandmates frequently allow the songs to evolve on their own. While the LP's focus occasionally becomes as nebulous as the songs' messages themselves, it's fairly evident that the band is sticking to its ambitions and slowly disembarking from the platform that provided their foundation.
The most extensive track, "Cicatriz ESP" initially digs in with some very cunning verses before temporarily losing itself in a heap of peculiar effects. Hanging on for the entire ride proves to be rewarding, as the band regains full consciousness and delivers one of their most cathartic and emancipating musical portions yet. Omar's stellar guitar work serves as one of the album's power sources. On "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt", he has plenty of fun with the skewed direction of the track and jumps on every opportunity to warp the chord progression. However, even the more relaxed section of the track serves a fulfilling purpose, signaling the imminent close of the LP. The Mars Volta's ideas flow pretty freely and, while this is not the most diverse record out there, it perfectly encapsulates what this band is all about.
De-Loused in the Comatorium is a special album indeed. Its consistency and its depth are just a couple of the assets that make the band's debut LP so entertaining. The Mars Volta embrace an outlandish facade to endow their audience with their own brand of progressive rock. Not all the rules are broken here, but few are followed. The end result is a compelling, colossal musical statement.
Roulette Dares (The Haunt of)
Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt