The Bedlam in Goliath

The Mars Volta

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The Bedlam in Goliath Review

by John Bush

It can't come as a surprise that the Mars Volta's fourth album opens with a bang -- sonic terrorism is one of the only things listeners can count on from the band -- but it's genuinely novel that The Bedlam in Goliath never lets go of its momentum, not even after a full hour's worth of unrelenting war on silence, the wrapping paper for a concept album about the power of the occult. On their first three proper albums, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez played games of quiet-loud-quiet (or loud-quiet-loud), sneaking around stealthily for minutes at a time before detonating another blast of thrash metal riffing and piercing screams. The Bedlam in Goliath is simply loud-loud-loud, virtually every song played at maximum volume and tempo. But, in fact, instead of being wearisome or exhausting, it's an oddly refreshing album. The band gets closer to its roots in thrash and funk-metal than ever before, avoids using electronics except where they can make a big impact, and finally lets semi-permanent guest John Frusciante occupy a readily discernible role. The "Goliath" of the album title is the name given to a spirit conjured by a Ouija board that Rodriguez-Lopez bought in Jerusalem; the band used the board heavily while on tour, and it supposedly brought bad luck to the entire recording process -- including reports of computer poltergeists, flooded studios, and a nervous breakdown for the album's first engineer (who may have simply been driven over the edge by the band's musical extremism). Musically, it's the funkiest work the band has ever done. No one's going to confuse them with James Brown (or even Red Hot Chili Peppers), but in a ten-minute streak that runs from the end of the third track, "Ilyena," through the single "Wax Simulacra," and to the end of "Goliath," an eight-minute extravaganza, the Mars Volta finally seize the mantle held by Rage Against the Machine for a dozen years (thanks in large part to Frusciante, as well as new drummer Thomas Pridgen). The band also exhibits more patience on The Bedlam in Goliath than it has in the past. No one who cares about the band should be interested in hearing a "maturing" Mars Volta -- you might as well ask for a sun that wasn't as hot -- but the band has shown the ability to mature in all the ways they can without losing what makes them unique. The album is as dynamic as ever (it seems to live perpetually on a knife's edge of tension), but it's more closely composed than Amputechture or even Frances the Mute. This should have been the album where the Mars Volta either wore their formula down to nothing or abruptly turned in a different direction, but instead the band created an album that nearly perfects what they've been working toward.

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