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The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath CD (album) cover

THE BEDLAM IN GOLIATH

The Mars Volta

 

Heavy Prog

3.52 | 495 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The fourth album from The Mars Volta, 'Bedlam in Goliath' has the reputation of being their loudest and most inaccessible album for a good reason . . .it is the loudest and most inaccessible. It is mostly a wall of noise without hardly a hint of a melody or anything repetitive. And it hardly ever lets up. So, if that's what you are in the mood for, then it's perfect. But that is the key, you have to be in the right mood. The music is progressive rock in the extreme. But like the best progressive rock, you have to listen to it several times before it penetrates and grows on you, then you can pick out the themes and melodies much better.

The story behind the album is a bit eerie. It was inspired by a Ouija board which was a gift from vocalist Cedric received as a gift from guitarist and songwriter Omar. The band got into the habit of playing with the board after concerts, and got to speaking with 3 different entities in the guise of one entity the band named Goliath. The band named the board 'The Soothsayer'. Strange things started to happen to members of the band and 3 of the regular members actually quit the band. This started a streak of bad luck that was prevalent through the recording of the album. Tapes disappeared, personal lives were shattered and the engineer that the band hired quit saying that what the band was trying to do was going to make him and other people crazy. Omar eventually broke The Soothsayer in half and buried it in an undisclosed location. However, Cedric incorporated names and themes from the messages from the Ouija board into the lyrics. The band incorporated Santeria, which is an African religious tradition, to the music to reverse the bad luck experienced by the band. It also used stories from the board to help water down the bad luck by spreading it around to listeners. If that doesn't raise your hackles during this Halloween season, then you have nerves of steel. Whether this has anything to do with the overall wild sound of the album, I'm not sure, but it definitely sounds much more chaotic and loud than previous albums.

'Aberinkula' is the first track. It means unbeliever, or it is also the name of a Nigerian drum. It immediately establishes the level of complexity and sound that you will be inundated with throughout the album. The instrumental break is a crazy explosion of drums, guitars and keyboards that follow no real pattern. The song itself does follow a verse/chorus pattern. 'Have you seen the living/Tired of their shells' are the lyrics of the chorus and are the words from Goliath the demon. It ends with an extended instrumental break, that is wild and complex, and very impressive.

'Metatron' continues with this as it flows straight from one track to another. Harmony is in a high pitched key, which contributes to the unsettling nature of the music. The first theme is changed further in to what seems like a more laid back feel, but that feeling is messed up quickly as the music becomes more chaotic. Any semblance of standard songwriting is lost at this point and it becomes hard to discern returning themes, but they are there.

'Ilyena' is easier to discern when it starts as it gets quiet suddenly. This song is named after the real name of Helen Mirren. The vocals are hard to understand as the voice is processed heavily, but when the band kicks in, the voice becomes normal. The song is a little easier to grasp at first, but its complexity changes that soon enough. The melodies are anything but typical also. The music is still chaotic, but I still love it because it is so original. It's always changing too, but as I listen to it, it becomes more understandable.

'Wax Simulacra' is a short track just over 2 minutes, but still full of all of the same complexities as the other tracks thus far. Just because it's shorter doesn't make it any more accessible.

'Goliath' is next and has a catchier riff in the vocals and guitar, but, as usual, everytime you start feeling that you are accessing the music, it goes to a new extreme. At least it is easier on this one to catch the verse section of the track. There is a wild yet amazing guitar solo after 2 minutes in and the bass is quite good too. That unsettling chaotic feeling still reigns. In the next section, there is a fast bass line trying to establish a more jazzier feel. This one reminds me of a 'Bond' style feel, but with the over the top craziness still overruling everything. This track is definitely one of the highlights.

You finally get a slight reprieve on 'Tourniquet Man', but it is only a short track, again just over 2 minutes. This is the only real mellow part of the album with the most accessible track, but that unsettled feeling still continues, even so. And that voice at the ending is enough to scare the peacefulness you might feel away quite quickly.

I could go on trying to describe these tracks, but after this, the crazy and chaotic, the unsettling and noisy continues to permeate the album. There is just so much going on in this music, it is impossible to keep up with. As I said earlier, this is progressive rock to the extreme, it never rests, and at the end of it all, as great as it all is, you feel like you have been pummeled. Because there is so much to digest in these tracks, it can seem like each track is just like the last one, especially when you listen through it the first several times. But if you give it time, things start to break through the wall of chaos, and you begin to hear structure and thematic elements. But it takes a lot of time. And even when you get to that point, you still feel like you have been pummeled.

Even when you do start to get a handle on the music, you can only really listen to it when you are in the mood. It is an excellent album to have around, but it isn't their best, mostly because, strangely enough, it is so inaccessible. But even the inaccessibility isn't the biggest problem here, the hardest thing about it is how unsettling it all is. It's excellent, it's amazing, but it is also tiring. It's just too much to take in all at once, and because of that, it is hard to fully appreciate. This is why there are so many different opinions and rating of this album. But it is hard to not consider it at least a 4 star album.

TCat | 4/5 |

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