The Mars Volta’s fourth album an ‘experience’
February 14, 2008
Never heard a man speak like this man before,” snarls Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the singer/lyricist half of The Mars Volta on The Bedlam in Goliath. It’s like he’s speaking to himself in a thrash of tongues that, according to Volta, were inspired by aggressive spirits infested inside a Ouija board discovered in Jerusalem. Ghosts or not, The Mars Volta have made their fourth album accessible with classic rock-driven time changes (think Rush, Pink Floyd), hissing guitar trips and Middle Eastern influenced structure. It’s also their boldest album. Those time changes come quick and without notice, jabbing fast and hard. Volta’s other half, guitarist/producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, doesn’t rely on cheap hooks or riffs to draw you in, but scythe-like slashes that lead to incoherent seizures. Or how about when Bixler-Zalava screams “I’m starting to feel a miscarriage coming on,” in “Goliath,” named exactly how it sounds. Simply put, The Bedlam in Goliath is an experience, taking traditional song craft and kicking it into the bizarre temple that is The Mars Volta.
The album opens with “Aberinkula,” a fast paced, high falsetto of alienation. Each instrument is displayed as a technical, almost robotic form. “Have you seen the living/Tired of their own shells” Bixler-Zavala cries out immediately and aggressively, like he’s observing how we’re operating: through routine and repetitive behavior. So what does Volta do? Have not one, but two interludes, toss in distorted vocals and go ape-shit with a snake charming sax solo with enough guitar freak-outs to blow out your ear drums. Take that!
The Bedlam in Goliath has its calm moments of serenity and tranquility, too. “Metatron” has an interrupted moment of beauty, with Bixler-Zavala crooning high over Rodriquez-Lopez’s meditated guitar work. “Tourniquet Man” is a trip of experimented sounds and hypnotizing melodies, as Bixlar-Zavala cries “Let me be your tourniquet man/let me keep you as a favor/when I hear your fingers/they will spell my name/as I trade the faces of the holders.”
The true moment of bliss lies in “Conjugal Burns,” a gorgeously eerie piece guaranteed to give shivers with words like “I’m nowhere near the place/you sent me here to breathe/but I’m drawing closer to the present/and I’ll find a space with no memories.”
However, like their 2005 masterpiece, Frances the Mute, Volta’s new disc suffers from information overload. Songs can be overwhelming, like “Ilyena,” with electronic noises playing underneath tampered vocals that sound as if Bixler-Zavala was singing underwater.
It’s these utterly bizarre moments, tied in with parts that can only be described as a cluster, of noise that bog the album down. Don’t let it turn you off. When The Bedlam in Goliath is finished, ending as abruptly as it started, it’s their message’s confession, repent and faith mutating into science that will haunt you. And it shouldn’t be any other way.
Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.