The Mars Volta – De-loused in the Comatorium – Review

The Mars Volta

De-loused in the Comatorium (Universal)
by Tim Den

Holy mother of unbelievability, it’s true: At The Drive-In’s break up was worth it. Cuz now not only do we have the potent post-hardcore of Sparta, we have The Mars Volta, the most charismatic (and enigmatic) creature this side of the century. All the hype was true, folks: The Mars Volta defy definition. Simple words and descriptions don’t even come close to capturing the shapeshifting, mind-bending, soul-purging madness these six men put human ears through. You want parallels thrown atcha? Get ready: Santana, Yes, Tito Puentes, Flamenco chord progressions, Fugazi, ambient dub, drum and bass… dizzy yet? Not as dizzy as you’re gonna be once all these influences start fusing together into a constellation of warped sound excorcisms.

Driven by drummer Jon Theodore’s ridiculously meaty exercises – and often augmented by guest percussionist Lenny Castro’s flailing hands – The Mars Volta translate Latin music’s tribal nature into punk rock spasms, filtering it through ’70s prog arrangements (average song length = seven minutes. Average time changes in song = five), then stabbing it in the chest with vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s anthemic croons. Meanwhile, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez conducts the orchestration by contorting irrational solos and snakecharming riffing into sweaty marathons, covering miles of melodic exploration with enough pedal effects to kill Vernon Reid. And that’s not even mentioning (now sadly deceased) sound manipulator Jeremy Ward’s overall facelift of the proceedings, turning off-time “jam out” sections into backward cut-and-paste collages filled with pitch-shifted time warps.

Add to all of this Bixler-Zavala’s love of Borroughs-like, dense word play (“Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt,” “Drunkship of Lanterns,” that album title, etc.) and you’d think that the average listener would read Canterbury Tales before tackling De-loused in the Comatorium. But fear not, for despite all of the trouble The Mars Volta go through in dressing up their songs, their strength remains in their ability to deliver moving, piercing hooks of infinite sorrow. Perhaps it’s the reinforcement of nothing but minor-key progressions in the album, but the size of the tragedies oozing out of Bixler-Zavala’s dead-on shrieks and Rodriguez-Lopez’s six-string eulogies are undeniable. You don’t need to be a virtuoso or a bookworm to feel the mourning in these odes to El Paso artist Julio Venegas (a close friend who committed suicide and inspired this album), you only need to let the anguished, soaring melodies hit you. And when they do, along with the rest of De-loused in the Comatorium‘s mosaic beauty, there will be no question left in your mind that this is one of the year’s best albums.