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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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4 stars The Puerto Rican terrorists are at it again, dividing the prog world with their fourth album, released at the beginning of 2008 after having been made partly available on the Internet. As the previous reviews and the two or three threads dedicated to it will attest, The Bedlam in Goliath seems to polarise opinions in a way TMV's other albums did not. And with good reason indeed... While the quality of the musical offer is undeniable, it must also be said that this is not a record that thrives on subtlety or ease of approach. Unlike "Frances the Mute" or "Amputechture", which had their share of quieter, more reflective moments, TBiG presents itself like a dense, almost impenetrable wall of sound that can be extremely daunting to a first-time listener.

The Mars Volta are the legitimate heirs of everything we love about classic prog. They have got excess down to a fine art, with their esoteric song titles and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, their exotic, colourful artwork, the potpourri of diverse influences that characterises their music. They are brash, noisy, chaotic, puzzling, even annoying, but rarely elicit reactions of complete indifference. They are also probably the most authentically progressive of the modern bands, who are not afraid to use shock tactics in their compositional approach. However, they should learn how to harness their creative impulses, as well as the virtues of restraint.

It is indeed the lack of the aforementioned restraint that seems to have put some people off, and driven them to express very negative views of this record. TMV have gone for the throat here, throwing anything but the proverbial kitchen sink into the almost eighty minutes of the album, forgetting that sometimes less is more. For starters, the album is too long - but, unlike Frances the Mute, it lacks the moments of relative respite provided by the 'noises'. What we have here is 77 solid minutes of music, conducted at a consistently brisk, often frantic pace. It is a wonder how the band manage to sustain such high energy levels without getting tired - because, after a while, the average listener does. The twelve tracks merge into each other to the extent that it becomes difficult to distinguish between them without resorting to the lyrics. And then, those who are not too keen on Cedric's vocals are definitely out of luck here, because the sung parts overwhelm the instrumental ones.

That said, "The Bedlam in Goliath" does have moments of brilliance which remind us of the band's potential for greatness. The quality of the performances is consistently high, and new drummer Thomas Pridgen is probably the real star of the show. As good as Jon Theodore was, this is a real wizard of the skins, perfectly complemented by Juan Alderete's deft, funky bass lines. Cedric, who gets the lion's share here, proves that he can handle different vocal styles, and is definitely growing into a force to be reckoned with. And then there is Omar, the band's mastermind, an unlikely sort of guitar hero who shuns histrionics and ego-trips in order to hold the fabric of the music together. From a purely musical point of view, TMV are very much an ensemble, a mini-orchestra that Omar conducts according to his vision, producing a sound that is nevertheless very much a team effort.

Unlike their three previous albums, TBiG starts with a bang - opener "Aberinkula" hits the listener squarely in the face and never lets up, with Cedric's hysterical wailing and Omar's manic guitar work bolstered by Pridgen's insane drumming. "Ilyena" is a funky mid-tempo that, while not really sounding like anything like "The Widow" or "Televators", plays the role of the obligatory slow track. To these ears, "Goliath" is one of the best TMV compositions ever, full of wild time signature shifts, deranged drumming patterns and Cedric's snarling vocals - as well as distinctly audible keyboards. Other highlights are the lazy, groovy "Agadez", which is somehow reminiscent of Living Colour's take on funk-metal; the salsa-meets-Middle Eastern, violin-enhanced ride that is "Soothsayer"; and the jagged, psychedelic metal of "Ouroboros". Other tracks are not as memorable or successful, notably the patchy, overlong "Cavalettas" - while I find the single "Wax Simulacra" rather nondescript, and "Tourniquet Man" quite disposable. On the other hand, album closer "Conjugal Burns", though otherwise quite intriguing, would have benefited from being a tad shorter.

It could easily be said that, even more so than the band's previous albums, TBiG is something of an acquired taste. As we say in Italy, they have put a bit too much meat on the fire... However, TMV are still at the beginning of their career, and I am quite positive they are headed towards their full maturity. As to now, they are still in a kind of experimental mode - and, as we all know, experiments are not always completely successful. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, I have been playing TBiG regularly since I bought it over two weeks ago, and, while I'd never say it is the band's masterpiece, I consider it a very good, progressive album which will probably grow more and more on me with each listen. Therefore I will give it a four-star rating, though not without a word of caution. If you are new to the band, try listening to "De-loused..." first.

Raff | 4/5 |


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