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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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3 stars Take the heaviest moments of "Tetragrammaton" or "Cassandra Gemini," multiply their intensity by ten, and that's The Bedlam in Goliah. Drummer Thomas Pridgen must have thrown both his arms out of socket the way he is all over the kit. The music comes in nonstop, furious washes that, for the uninitiated, might have them screaming from the room. As usual, the songs are heavy not just musically, but lyrically also; the lead singer drenches each track in a volley of seemingly nonsensical syllables and phrases that ring true even if the hearer can't make heads or tails of them. With the exception of the terse "Tourniquet Man," there isn't breathing room anywhere on this album, and I suspect there simply isn't meant to be. For quite some time, I contented myself with the first half of the album, since I could only take so much of it at one time. Even when I dared traverse the sixth track, I found my attention and interest wane quickly and often. It took an awful lot of fortitude, more so than any other album by this frighteningly creative band, to make it to the place where I enjoy this whole work. This still remains my least favorite studio album from The Mars Volta (out of the first four, at least), but I've come to terms with what it is, and what's more, surprisingly, have even come to enjoy it.

"Aberinkula" The sonic onslaught begins here, with Cedric Bixler-Zavala's banshee-like vocals and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's erratic guitar. The drumming is nothing less than psychotic. The song also features one of the most imaginative yet tightly constructed instrumental sections The Mars Volta has ever thrown together.

"Metatron" What this song has in common with the first track, other than the constant wall of sound, is a really catchy refrain. There is a brief break in the music, as Rodriguez-Lopez introduces a swampy guitar sound that brings in an easy-to-follow and highly enjoyable section of music, with Bixler-Zavala singing in a catty but pleasant falsetto.

"Ilyena" My favorite on the track is this one. It begins with Bixler-Zavala's voice saturated in electronic effects before the band explodes in what is probably the catchiest song on the album; one could almost break dance to this.

"Wax Simulacra" Brief doesn't mean soft- this two-and-a-half minute song is just as hard-hitting as everything that came before it. I really enjoy the melody used, and I applaud the band's economy.

"Goliath" Yet another powerful track with a pummeling rhythm section and manic guitars, The Mars Volta delivers again in terms of composition and vocal melody, as well as such clever use of electronic effects. Those effects aren't as pronounced as the processing that pervades a track like "Ilyena," but they're still there, particularly in the frenetic but completely memorable ending.

"Tourniquet Man" This is the only oasis of tranquility on the album, and even then, it's dark and chilling.

"Cavalettas" This was the usual point on the album where I hit the eject button; perhaps it isn't for me to listen to nearly eighty minutes of noise-laden edgy hard rock. The first three minutes of this track lacks some of the charm (funny word, that) of any of the previous songs, but it has it's own gritty appeal and an seemingly random avant-garde section. After the three minute mark, I always find myself going, "Now there's the melody I was humming in my head the other day!" The last moments of the song have Bixler-Zavala singing that main melody over minor chords played on piano and an erratic-sounding guitar.

"Agadez" The electronic noise from the previous track brings in this one. Despite strange effects and processing, this song actually has an R&B flavor that is unexpectedly appealing. Halfway through, there's Hispanic percussion and a riveting bass line, with some ghostly, over-the-top singing. The ending, with those haunting strings, is one of the best moments of the album.

"Askepios" Easily my least favorite song, Bixler-Zavala's caterwauling is a bit too much, the drums are panned to the left side (which can make for uncomfortable listening), and there is nothing particularly noteworthy about Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar playing or tinkering with noises and effects. This track is a mess; it should have been reworked or scrapped.

"Ouroboruous" More sputtering noises greet the listener here. But soon the musical assault returns, as this is the closest to progressive metal The Mars Volta has ever gotten, full of overdriven, chugging guitar and heavy drums. At times, Bixler-Zavala sings over some a lone synthetic instrument, which doesn't really go with the rest of the music, but that might be medically necessary to give the listener's ears a break! The strange, processed growling sounds silly at this point, but on the plus side, the vocal melodies are once again memorable and easy to follow.

"Soothsayer" What sounds like a Middle-Eastern bazaar and a string duet begins the second longest track. Strange, upbeat gypsy music ensues and carries on during the singing. Overall, this piece reminds me of some of the material from Amputechture. Once again, Bixler-Zavala shines as a singer of wonderful melodies and exotic lyrics. The haunting ending, with the screeching violin, reminds me of "Providence" by King Crimson.

"Conjugal Burns" The band closes this bizarre outing with what initially promises to be a more straightforward song in the vein of the work on their debut, but no- not ten seconds in, Rodriguez-Lopez's wacky guitar sound and otherworldly production keep this track well in line with everything that preceded it. It's a solid closer, but not on par with many of the other songs in any department.

Epignosis | 3/5 |


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