Review Summary: As far as releases like this go, it's worth checking out.
2023 will mark the twentieth anniversary of De-Loused in the Comatorium
and a decade since The Mars Volta hung up their hats and called it a day. Some would argue that it was for good reasons, others, like myself, would counter they were doing just fine writing creative works that, at the very least, satisfied the rabid fanbase’s insatiable appetite. Admittingly, the band struggled to deliver seminal works with the same shoulder-shrugging ease once Jon Theodore left the band, but their consistency endured until the end. Regardless of what your thoughts are for The Mars Volta’s later years, their departure has been sorely felt in recent times. Once the dust settled on the band’s exit the scene was left in desolation, with no band since being able to fill the gaping void in quite the same way. The reason? Well let’s be frank here – their idiosyncratic disposition was just too difficult to replicate. The Mars Volta had every department covered with the utmost attention to detail. Couple their virtuosity, which would make a lot of musicians hang up their instruments anyway, with genuine love for music and passion for artistic expression and they had a formidable formula very few could (or can to this day) compete with. Esoteric and verbose lyrics executed with incredible vocal versatility, bulking, labyrinthian compositions and intricate, multi-layered instrumental work, and punctilious artwork that was placed in the centre of these incredible peregrinations. In short, The Mars Volta used these intrinsic elements as building blocks to develop an inimitable sound that would form their revered legacy.
That legacy is such that people rejoiced over the eye-wateringly priced limited vinyl boxset which was announced only a few months back – the first official, band-sanctioned vinyl release since the albums’ initial releases – one that sold out like hot cakes at the pre-order stage. However, vinyl collectors, hardcore fans or no, for most people, the piquing interest came from the reveal of Landscape Tantrums
which was to be included in the boxset: a collection of never-before released demo tracks that came from the De-Loused in the Comatorium
era. For a layman, De-Loused in the Comatorium
is almost inarguably hailed as the band’s crowning opus; its presentation is built up in a way to be both incredibly dense and profound, yet very accessible in execution. It’s got that liminal feeling where Cedric and Omar were shedding their post-hardcore At the Drive-In ties for more thoughtful prog-rock pastures. This would probably explain its succinct – in the realms of The Mars Volta – nature and why it’s regarded as their most popular release.
So that’s where we are in 2021; fans chomping at the bit for a vinyl re-release and some demos from an album almost twenty years old. And, hell, I’m as pleased with the situation as any other Volta fan out there, but the question remains – how does Landscape Tantrums
stack up? In reality, it’s as one would imagine it to be: it’s a snapshot of feral, half-baked ideas that would inevitably morph and flourish into the final product we know De-Loused
to be, once Rick Ruben came onto the scene. Essentially, the band started recording the album themselves (ala Landscape Tantrums
) before changing course and deciding to get Rick Rubin involved as co-produce for the record. As such, Landscape Tantrums
is a time capsule that gets you more intimately connected with the band and how their processes developed over time. It’s still a niche product however, for the hardcore and the curious. If you want to get a better understanding for where the band’s headspace was at the time of making this modern rock masterpiece, there’s plenty of variations and alterations here to satisfy those kinds of needs.
That being said, I’m not the kind of guy who gets his rocks off on this kind of fly-on-the-wall immersion. If nothing else, I can say the sound quality makes it an alluring offering, since “demos” feels somewhat misleading. Indeed, the songs here sound pretty great and are structurally complete with everything there. No, what I think this release reveals more than anything else is that it’s yearning for guidance. After hearing Landscape Tantrums
, it’s clear Rubin came into the fray to polish up on production ideas, both big and subtle, to completely capture the heart of what De-Loused
would become and as such, it’s hard to not feel like these tracks are inferior in almost every conceivable way. The tracks in this state lack meat and weight. Instruments seem to float in the sonic vacuum with a lack of immediacy and purpose. Cedric in particular is drowning in vacuous vocal effects for the majority of these demos, which in turn has a detrimental effect on the emotional trajectory of various crescendo-building moments, namely on “Roulette Dares”’ incredible vocal highs which feel severely neutered by reverb and delay effects, and some distracting harmonies. Similar differences come from “Drunkship of Lanterns”’ powerhouse rhythm section which now feels far less intimidating and more pacified to make room for the stylophone which takes itself to the forefront of the song. I think the only track I found to be legitimately great in its own way – merely because it’s dominated by Carpenter-esque synths that take hold of the song – is “Son Et Lumiere”. It’s an interesting take that intensifies the foreboding mood, but even then, it takes nearly twice as long as its finished counterpart to get to the point, and after all, this is an intro track we’re talking about here.
My opinion resides in the fact releases like this shouldn’t see the light of day. There are obvious reasons why Landscape Tantrums
wasn’t released in this state, but when it is associated with a near perfect prog-rock masterpiece birthed at the start of the twenty-first century, it kind of shows the mistakes the band were making initially. And maybe that’s the point? Maybe this thing is seeing the light of day now to show the more vulnerable side of Omar’s decisions. As I’ve said, if you like this kind of thing, there’s plenty to dissect and compare with the final version, but I’d rather put my time into hearing the finished product than waste any more time on Landscape Tantrums