Delivering on almost two decades of anticipation would be a near-impossible feat for any band. In the case of post-hardcore heroes At the Drive-In, this insurmountable challenge also holds true. in•ter a•li•a, their follow-up to 2000's classic Relationship of Command, arrived 17 years after the breathlessly intense "One Armed Scissor" and "Arcarsenal" catapulted them into the mainstream, leading to a split soon after. In the interim, bandleaders Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez established the Mars Volta, creating a discography as respectable as other number two bands like Foo Fighters, Gorillaz, or A Perfect Circle. While their musical chops developed, ATDI slowly ascended to legendary myth status. Thus, the overwhelming expectations heaped upon in•ter a•li•a are unavoidable. Taking the album at face value, there's enough to satisfy. Bixler-Zavala's vocals benefitted from those years with the Mars Volta. He sings more often than yelps, even adopting an arena metal delivery on "Tilting at the Univendor." Rodriguez-Lopez maintains his guitar's acrobatic prowess, delivering jabbing stabs on songs like "Call Broken Arrow" and "Holtzclaw." Bassist Paul Hinojos -- along with drummer Tony Hajjar and guitarist Keeley Davis -- provides a tense atmosphere that centers it all with a cohesive tone (Hinojos stands out on highlight "Ghost-Tape No.9" with a lurching groove that elevates the slow-burning track). While much of in•ter a•li•a sounds the same, standout "Continuum" blasts through the haze with its bullhorn declarations and distortion that sounds a lot like Rage Against the Machine. Fans craving their early sound should latch onto singles "Governed by Contagions" and "Hostage Stamps," but even those songs are a far cry from the sheer unhinged ferocity that was bottled on Relationship. As ever, Bixler-Zavala's lyrics remain impenetrable and borderline pretentious, aiming for poignancy but missing the mark with inscrutable musings like "placebo buttons maim all the tattle tales" and "the ultimatum clots a tapeworm hymnal." These sound poetic enough, but they serve the flow of the music more than by sending a message. In the end, it's difficult to detach from history. There's nothing on in•ter a•li•a as thrilling as what's found on Relationship of Command, nor is there anything as intriguing as the Mars Volta's output. However, facing the facts of reality, no one is the same after 17 years of life. in•ter a•li•a is solid enough and more refined than its predecessor, but will nevertheless disappoint those attacking it through the lens of Relationship.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung