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The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium

Ryan Potts

The Mars Volta

De-Loused in the Comatorium

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2003-06-24
UK Release Date: 2003-06-23

De-Loused in the Comatorium, the Mars Volta's first full-length, may have Red Hot Chili Pepper's Flea embedded in the credits under "bass instrumentation," be branded with major label backing with Universal Records, and have Rick Rubin (Slayer, System of a Down) twirling the knobs as producer, but this release is a shock-inducing electrode to popular music's pacemaker. The two minds behind the Mars Volta (as well as ex-At the Drive-In alums), Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, instigate mutiny within mainstream music's borders as the duo break punk rock into shards -- along with salsa, prog, avant-garde, free-jazz, dub reggae, and every other one of punk's previously alienated genres.

Immediately the 95-second album intro "Son Et Lumiere" resurrects a schism genres deep between the Mars Volta's new musical guise and At the Drive-In's heyday as well as Sparta -- the moniker that now enlists the remaining three-fifths of ATDI. Despite "Son Et Lumiere" only being a mere opening piece, it's clear the twosome have come equipped with a musical arsenal to expand punk's peripherals with layered effects and processor-run vocals as opposed to the visceral post-punk explosions that litter their past.

Soon, "Inertiatic Esp" begins to spasm and swirl in every direction as the first official track on De-Loused in the Comatorium (as well as the shortest at four and a half minutes). It finds vocalist/co-founder Cedric Bixler Zavala with a new, finely-tuned melodious voice as primary songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez sifts galloping, bongo-driven rhythms with guitar upheavals that are frantic and frenzied in their punk-via-salsa pandemonium.

As that track is a succinct sonic snapshot of the disparate sounds that can be pinpointed in everyone and everything from Pink Floyd and Can to dub and free-jazz to Wire and the Fall, the remaining songs on De-Loused find the Mars Volta in a sprawling and rambling musical manner. The tracks rapture between so many distinct and dissimilar styles that it sometimes feels as if the duo at the center of this disc have assembled an album of mere effects and musical fashions, not songs and tracks. Contrary to nearly every other band in music today, the Mars Volta suffer from an abundance of ideas and concepts, not a lack thereof.

But, obviously, this is only a minor grip and its worth glossing over the 12-minute "Cicatriz Esp" that is hindered from minutes of downtime in the middle of the track. Others, however, sparkle and shine with an ingenuity and inventiveness all their own as eclectic music this ripe with ideas hasn't been heard in a very long while. "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)," specifically, happens to be one of those songs.

At the onset, "Roulette Dares" teeters on spiraling completely out of control and crash-landing into complete incoherence, but somehow all the squiggles of keyboard, the multitude of schizophrenic tempo changes, and the utter insanity that swirls around the track is always under the keen artistic grasps of Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler Zavala. In testament to De-Loused in the Comatorium's incessant mingling of its punk rock roots with foreign genres from salsa to krautrock, "Roulette Dares" suddenly slinks to a halt in its last two-minutes as the song resurrects the spirits of Neu! with ambient guitar dabbles and drifting drone effects.

After you connect the disc's disparate musical dots, De-Loused in the Comatorium may not create a coherent picture -- but that's the whole point. The Mars Volta make insensible music out of genres skewed and scattered across the sonic spectrum to create an album that's at once compressed and boundless, and claustrophobic and expansive.

In a time where originality is drowned beneath a muddled mess of mediocrity, in a period when retro(gressive) bands clog all indie stratums, in an era where punk's been annexed by the prefix of pop, art is lost and forgotten, ignored and betrayed. The Mars Volta, above all the genres they transpose and trends they lay to waste, stand as an outfit determined to inspire and uplift art from its current dormancy. You should do the same.

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