Relationship of Command
is what you'd call a perfect storm. It happened at the right place at the right time, it changed people's perceptions of rock and its boundaries, and yet flew by too quickly. This is yet another case in which a band broke up during their absolute peak, although At the Drive-In were certainly mapping out the aspects of this record's sound long before its conception. Acrobatic Tenement
displayed the band at their absolute rawest while the follow-up album In/Casino/Out
was the one displaying more melody and restraint, so it was completely logical to bridge the two sounds together into one cohesive whole. The result is an experience that masters balance, both dynamically and in terms of songwriting diversity, and serves as one of modern punk's most iconic records.
As one might imagine, singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez are firing on all cylinders here. They let loose, they show restraint, they experiment with different sounds and moods, and are just plain mesmerizing from beginning to end. The energy and intensity of the punchier numbers like opener "Arcarsenal" or the popular "One-Armed Scissor" displays their chemistry as a duo in full form, while more reflective numbers like "Invalid Litter Dept." and the gorgeous closing ballad "Non-Zero Possibility" are great ways to shake it all off before going the volume knob hits "11" again. Jim Ward is also great here, not only serving as a solid rhythm guitarist but a great pianist (as was his role in the last album as well). This quality certainly makes the more somber tunes shine more strongly. Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar round out the group, forming a stunning rhythm section that can adapt to even the most jarring of musical changes... as there are quite a lot of them here. Even Iggy Pop makes a guest appearance here, performing a bizarre (and kinda funny) telephone call to kick off "Enfilade" and singing alongside Cedric in the frantic "Rolodex Propaganda."
Ross Robinson's production work here reminds me a lot of the production on The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters, being slick and polished while also retaining the punch and distortion of any good classic punk record. Omar has gone on to regard the production as one of the worst aspects of the album due to its "commercialized" sound when compared to Acrobatic Tenement
, but it fits the atmosphere perfectly. The album's mood is very bright and full of life, and Ross' work really captures that feel. With that said, the one-two-three-four punch of the first four tracks is really what draws so many people to Relationship of Command
, and with good reason. Each song in this set is exceptionally energetic and sure to pull no punches when aiming for the listener's gut. But of course, there's still enough melody to keep things interesting, like the memorable "Lazarus threw the party" break in "Sleepwalk Capsules."
Relationship of Command
is one of those records that just can't be replicated, no matter how hard some bands may try to copy its sound. The emotion, the energy, the varying dynamics, and the charisma are all here in spades, and there's not one bad song to be found. If you're even remotely interested in modern rock, specifically modern punk and alternative rock, do yourself a big favor and listen to Relationship of Command
. The band's other two albums are great, but this is the one that combined all of the band's best qualities into one perfect experience.