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De-Loused in the Comatorium

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★★★★½
(531 Reviews)

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  • The second band to rise from the ashes of At The Drive-In, the Mars Volta was formed by Cedric Bixler (vocals) and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (guitars) in 2001, months after At The Drive In’s breakup. The Mars Volta focuses on ATDI’s experimental side, by adding hits of progressive rock, free jazz and Latin music to the aggressive blend of emo and punk. Bixler and Rodriguez-Lopez are joined by Ikey Owens, Jeremy Michael Ward (who died of an overdose a month before the album’s release), and John Theodore. Flea and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers also collaborate on the album. De-loused in the Comatorium was inspired by the life of Julio Venegas, a childhood friend of some of the members in the band. Venegas, an artist in the El Paso region, slipped into a coma for a week after a drug overdose, and experienced a series of dreams, and battles between the good and bad aspects of the human conscience. He emerged from the coma in the end, but ultimately decided to take his own life. De-loused in the Comatorium narrates the internal struggle of Venegas, his addiction, his fearlessness and his thoughts while comatose until his life came to self-inflicted end. Yet the lyrics are very abstract, which probably represent the psychological and subconscious battle. Yet abstractions have been constant with Cedric Bixler ever since his days fronting At The Drive-In.Musically, however, Comatorium is eclectic, bizarre, bewildering, and mesmerizing. Comparisons to art rock legends Rush are frequent, yet this is a lot more intense and complex than anything ever put out by Rush. Yes, Bixler’s vocals are high-pitched, like Rush frontman/bassist Geddy Lee’s, yet they are a lot more hostile and urgent. The guitars aren’t also as carefully composed as those of Rush, and the drumming isn’t nearly as multifaceted or virtuosic. However, the songs on Comatorium are long, sprawling and interesting, usually going through several phases before its conclusion. This is a throwback to progressive rock. It is indulgent, ambitious and bombastic, much like prog-rock bands that have come and gone in the past, but yet The Mars Volta always keeps the music exciting. They also have a sense of direction on where the music needs to go, something a band like Rush was very good, at as opposed to past albums by Yes or Dream Theater, which insisted on the band members aimlessly noodling or overexploiting their musical talents. The band members started out playing in bands where raw emotion was the fundamental constituent of the songs they created, and did not rely on classically trained instrumentation. In fact, most of this album sounds like ATDI with longer songs with elements of old Santana, Pink Floyd’s Meddle and Miles Davis circa 1969.De-loused in a Comatorium is not an album; it’s an encounter. It reflects a tragedy so musically and so abrasively. It is not mainstream in the slightest, so don’t expect a 12-minute jamfest like “Cicatriz ESP,” or even a short 4 minute song like “Inertiatic ESP” to come on the radio anytime soon. It’s full of enigmas, questions, emotions and reflections. Whether the Mars Volta is your style of music or not, De-loused in the Comatorium is probably the most interesting and uncompromising album released this year.

    Posted on December 30, 2009