(The Bedlam in Goliath” by The Mars Volta)
On their fourth studio album, The Mars Volta have definitely decided not to take it easy. From the very moment it starts until its ending 75 (!) minutes later, the band works in full steam ahead hyperdrive mode, rarely stopping for breath. One could be halfway through the album before realizing the first track is even over. On the upside, it shows a band determined to prove they’re now the hardest working men in show business; on the downside, the songs tend to blend together into a massive rush of LOUDERFASTERNOW!!! Although working with the same prog-punk blueprint they’ve been developing over the years, here they seem to reject the more jam-band approach of Frances the Mute or Amputechture. All of the songs on the new album fall below the ten-minute mark, which for them is concise (disgruntled fans of the first album may want to check this one out). Their love of latin rhythms continues, however, aided ably by new drummer Thomas Pridgen, who gives the impression he’s actually two men. The twin guitar attack of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and (former Chili Pepper) John Frusciante, while using every style they can think of (including feedback noise), here they at least stick to the song at hand. This is not to say they’re not coloring outside the lines, but they play it at such light-speed that the impression one gets is of Miles Davis’ On the Corner interpreted by meth-addled robots. Meanwhile, vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala sticks mainly to the upper registers of his voice and lets the words tumble out at such a rate thay a lyric sheet is necessary to know what they are. This is not to say “understand,” though, “The Bedlam in Goliath” is billed as (what else?) a concept album about a seemingly cursed ouija board that the band acquired in Jerusalem. Hey, I don’t make the news; I just report it. If any of this sounds a bit daunting, that’s probably because it’s supposed to be. The Mars Volta obviously don’t appeal to casual listeners; in fact, die hard Rush or Tool fans may even run screaming from the room. One of their major inspirations, Carlos Santana, would probably also be baffled. Still, if you’re already a fan of the band, or just want to test your fortitude as a music fan, this is the album you’ve been longing for. Though one wishes they’d slow down sometimes–this album is all crescendo, all the time–this is no return to the form of their earlier work but another creative level entirely. With their maximum-firepower approach, if The Mars Volta aren’t the best band ever, they’re certainly the most.