Mars Volta breaks its curse

For years, The Mars Volta has been an enigmatic and threatening act in modern music, creating a very distinct and crazed sound that has gone unparalleled since its conception in 2001.

Listening to The Mars Volta can be enlightening and frustrating at the same time. The vicious and often frenzied blend of progressive rock, Latin and jazz often leaves listeners bewildered and confused, while the group subconsciously amazes you, leaving you no choice but to hit the repeat button. The Bedlam in Goliath is the group’s fourth studio album, a concept album based around the band’s bizarre experiences with a Ouija board that guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez had purchased for vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala on a trip. While on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2006, the band made it a post-show ritual to play with the board, which they referred to as "The Soothsayer."

According to an article on, the more the band interacted with the Soothsayer, the more misfortune they saw. The band faced several obstacles ranging from the flooding of Rodriguez-Lopez’s home studio to Bixler-Zavala’s foot surgery to the band’s touring drummer quitting mid-tour.

Obviously, the band used these experiences to craft the concept for Goliath, an album that is the group’s best and most cohesive effort since 2003’s De-loused in the Comatorium. The band aimed to undo the curses of the Soothsayer by recording this album, which, according to Bixler-Zavala, "did not want to be recorded."

Musically, this album is no different from their past releases. The guitar work is jaw-dropping, as guitarists Rodriguez-Lopez, along with Paul Hinojos and the Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, who plays for the group in the studio, are nothing short of an all-star lineup. Also notable is the band’s new drummer, Thomas Pridgen. Pridgen joined the band in 2007 after the original drummer, Jon Theodore, left the band.

The album begins with "Aberinkula," whose frantic drums, along with Bixler-Zavala’s trademark croon, shape a leadoff track that accents what the rest of the record is about.

Songs such as "Wax Simulacra" and "Goliath" are a back-to-basics for the group, showcasing the urgency found on De-loused. "Wax Simulacra," the bands first single, is just shy of three minutes, which could be considered a rarity among a discography that has seen its share of songs as long as 16 minutes. Despite the fact that the rhythm section on this song is at its peak, this is not a good choice for a single. On the other hand, I highly doubt that The Mars Volta is the slightest bit concerned about having hit singles.

Other standout moments on the album include "Ilyena," which is one of the group’s catchiest and most accessible songs to date and could have very well served as the first single, and "Soothsayer," a nine-minute epic complete with the standard Volta jam session and even an Islamic call to prayer in the introduction.

Many fans seem to have become jaded with the group due to their previous efforts, Frances the Mute and Amputechture, where the songs grew in length, and the band began to experiment with new sounds and ambience. On Goliath, the band seems to have a strong focus on writing songs again, which may prevent any staleness while listening to the album and keep you listening without skipping around.

The band is a tighter unit than it has been in a long time, and with several tour and festival dates lined up, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Fans across the board who have lost faith in the band should not find it difficult to reunite with the boys after listening to this album.

The Bedlam in Goliath was released on Jan. 29 through Universal Records.

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