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


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

3.53 | 530 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Bang!

'De-Loused' opened with a short introduction before pouring on the power. 'Frances' began with a longer introduction, then busted out 'Cygnus'. Amputechture took a full nine minutes before offering us a glimpse of the manic VOLTA. Ladies and Gentlemen, you do not have to wait a moment for 'The Bedlam in Goliath' to make a statement. It is full-on frenetic THE MARS VOLTA sonic abuse from the first bar: a maniacally grinning THOMAS PRIDGEN laying down extraordinarily complex and energetic drum patterns, funky bass rumbling and roaring with a million splintered guitar notes folded in, all overlaid by CEDRIC's high-pitched vocals.

And yet 'Aberinkula' is merely a mid-paced opener. With dual hooks of chorus (descending scales and CEDRIC's wails) and guitar motif, underpinned by outstanding bass lines, this astonishing track sets the table for the most ballsy, confident and powerful prog-rock statement in many years. Within a minute the album has you by the throat, and spits the words 'There's more to come' into your pale, frightened face.

Though it has a cover similar to that of 'Amputechture' (by the same artist), 'The Bedlam in Goliath' is nothing like its languid and occasionally overblown predecessor. This album reaches into funk and pulls astonishing bass lines into songs with, quite frankly, ridiculous frequency. Here's what I adore about this band: they condense a thousand incandescent ideas into each song, like a pack of schoolboy laboratory assistants let loose in the chemistry room at lunchtime. You find yourself hearing something new on the fiftieth, the hundredth listen. Not all the ideas work, but they're all fun.

'Metatron' ups the pace, integrating seamlessly with the opener. We have, in fact, a fourteen minute two-part opener, but wisely TMV have divided it in two. 'Ilyena' lays down a most gratifying funk groove, then rips it up in a variety of interesting ways. Hooks, hooks, there are dozens of them: check out the vocal line on this song. Actually, the songs on this album feel too short, a very good sign. I want them to go on and on. It's certainly true of 'Wax Simulacra', which seems in need of a digression or two, but the song has raw power, no doubt about it, courtesy of PRIDGEN and his machine-gun skins.

Actually, I'd go so far as to say this is JUAN ALDERETE's album. His bass lines, even more than PRIDGEN's outrageous drumming, are the rocks upon which this edifice is built.

'Goliath' beggars belief. I heard this track live early last year, in its earliest incarnation. I heard it on OMAR's solo album, and it sounded pretty good. Well, the bass line is still the same, but it has matured into a buck-toothed, saliva-dripping monster. This is new prog's '21st Century Schizoid Man': indeed, the bass line recalls KING CRIMSON's venerable song, as does the structure, with the free-form freakout mid-song in which the musicians remove every restraint and jam a brick against the accelerator. And the three minute funk/jam/gospel outro! Spine tingling. Instant classic.

'Torniquet Man' performs the same role as 'Asilos Magdalena' did on 'Amputechture', allowing us a short respite. Very short in this case. Then we're off again, into part two of TMV's 2008 occult house of horrors. I'm not entirely convinced by the stop-start patchwork of 'Cavalettas', which sounds like a dozen tunes in search of a home, but it's certainly pure MARS VOLTA. The slower, powerful blues of 'Agadez', with it's climactic LED ZEPPELIN moment halfway in, is followed by a four-pronged finish replete with sonic experimentation. 'Askepios' with its electrics and cinematic chords, the faux-metal guitar and compelling keyboards of 'Ourobouros', 'Soothsayer's Middle-eastern vibe, and the extraordinary screaming climax that is 'Conjugal Burns'. I listen, I gasp for air, I flop about like a fish on rocks. Please stop, I can't breathe.

There are bonus tracks. The Aust/NZ version I purchased has three, all covers. I'll listen to them closely some time. I'm sorry, I don't have the energy at the moment. I tell a lie: actually, 'Candy and a Currant Bun' is a good way of gauging how far THE MARS VOLTA have taken psychedelic rock since the simpler, gentler days of SYD BARRETT. A long, long way, apparently.

Reviewers will complain all the songs sound the same. I'd rather they didn't review albums like this until they've sorted out the songs in their minds. Live with it for a while before you tell us what it's like. These songs have real personality. Just give them time.

Look, music can be soothing, or beautiful, or contemplative. This isn't. This is the high energy of thrash punk melded with prog rock sensibilities, all towering conceit and immensity of vision. More than any other THE MARS VOLTA album, 'The Bedlam in Goliath' showcases the pure power this band has at its fingertips. It crushes. Eighty minutes of crushing. Relentless, merciless crushing. You don't want to be crushed, you step out of the record store. You want beauty, look elsewhere: there's no 'Televators' or 'Miranda' here.

I don't know if this is their best record. Ask me in a year. However, it is certainly pure five-star material, essential listening. Have no fear of purchasing this. Even if you hate it, listening to it will be an experience (check out the Guardian's review!). Isn't that what music is for?

I am astonished, scared, moved, angered and delighted by this record. Yes, they overdo it at times. Yes, it's a lot to take in at one, two or five listens. And yes, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, the ouija board cover story notwithstanding. So what? That's what THE MARS VOLTA is for.

russellk | 5/5 |


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