The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath

By: Mike Akers

Inspiration is what drives 100-percent of artists producing music. Most artists have what you may call "financial inspiration," i.e. trying to make a buck. Another portion have what you can call "artistic inspiration," i.e. an attempt at being original in order to leave their mark on modern music. The glitz, glamour and girls of the music business inspire others, and we'll call that "bling influence." Whatever the muse may be, it usually derives from a particular moment or a sequence of events.

Ask The Mars Volta what inspired their fourth full-length studio album, The Bedlam In Goliath (released by Universal on January 29), and you may be surprised at their answer: A Soothsayer, an object described by bandleader Omar Rodriguez-Lopez as a primitive relic that functions like a Ouija Board. Legend has it Bedlam was completely inspired by findings derived from the Soothsayer, a gift Rodriguez-Lopez brought back from his trip to the Middle East as a gift for lead vocalist and longtime friend Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The band has called Bedlam In Goliath their most powerful, aggressive album to date, and it's also one of their most experimental, too.

Concept albums are nothing new to The Mars Volta. Their first two releases (Frances the Mute and De-Loused in the Comatorium) were inspired by the deaths of friends and heroes, and Bedlam carries this trend of overarching thematic structures into a whole new level, where the epic story makes you second guess your disbelief in the supernatural.

The opening track, "Aberinkula," rages into a steady groove that takes the listener for a prog-rock journey that provides a good diagram of where the group has traveled musically over the last six years. Power packed drums chaotically organize rhythm around Bixler-Zavala's ear piercing tone, while Rodriguez-Lopez lays out the framework with his schizophrenic guitar motions. Segueing with a punch into the ten-ton "Metatron," the band turns powerfully and aggressively psychedelic. Simply put, music that can make your ears bleed, though you won't likely complain.

In ways they've remained true to the original Volta prototype from 2001 but consistently expanded on it as well. Time signature shifts and wild tempo changes are abundant in just the first few minutes. Rodriguez-Lopez loves false stops, savoring a few seconds of dead silence before unleashing the last dregs of energy within the music. Curses and demons may have inspired the scripting of Bedlam but their unbelievable talent and presence is what makes this record shine. Their approach means each track is left to the listener to figure out in their own way.

The album picks up steam with "Wax Simulacra" with a powerful cold ending that segues perfectly into the reworked version of "Rapid Fire Toll Booth," which originally appeared on Rodriguez Lopez's 2007 solo album, Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo. Renamed "Goliath" after the Biblical giant, this take is more raw with fewer saxophones than the original and alternative lyrics. "Wax Simulacra is the track destined to get airplay, a fine fit with both rock and alternative formats.

"Ouroborous," a tripped-out, head-banging jam towards the back end of the album, will inspire air guitar as Rodriguez-Lopez's serenading solo kicks in and sets the mood for the last stretch. "Soothsayer" places the listener into a open air market place to trip down the dusty streets that surely inspired Rodriguez-Lopez.

Channeling elements of 2005's France the Mute, Bedlam will please existing fans but listeners new to the group may be hesitant to open up their ears to this whole new page in rock history, but that comes with the territory. Few remember what America thought of Led Zeppelin's debut in 1969 or Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967, but a portion of the initial resistance those albums garnered was due to the sheer newness of their sound. Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala have created a truly monumental sound that's likely to influence a lot of musicians in the years to come. Only time will tell, but 2008 may be the year future rock historians regard as a significant turning point thanks to The Mars Volta's latest creation.

JamBase | Outer Spheres
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[Published on: 2/5/08]

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