The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium

The Mars Volta
De-Loused in the Comatorium

You probably know the story by now. At the Drive-In went on “indefinite hiatus” just as it was starting to get big, and that band’s members splintered off into two new groups. First you have Sparta, a more melodic and accessible version of what ATDI had been doing. But Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavalas went the other direction, leaving you with The Mars Volta, a more psychedelic and progressive version of what they were creating with their former band.
The sound is pretty complicated, so let’s take this one element at a time. The lyrics are almost as perplexing as those that left you scratching your head when you heard ATDI, spun through Cedric’s immediately recognizable howls and moans. This is a concept album inspired by the suicide of Julio Venegas, an artist from El Paso, Texas, and a close friend of Omar and Cedric. The words create a narrative that consists of what Cedric imagines his friend experienced while in a coma following an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The narrative ends with its protagonist awaking from the coma only to take his own life, but the album is not as bleak as it may sound, thanks to hints of hope and renewal scattered throughout.
The bass on the album was contributed by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so you know it is virtual perfection. Flea hooked up with The Mars Volta when his band pegged them as an opening act on tour, and as always, here he is equally capable of settling down into a funky groove or spazzing out in jaw-dropping fashion. Omar’s guitar work is as shredding as ever. Between his monstrous playing and the additional keyboards and sound manipulations of Jeremy Michael Ward and Ikey Isaiah Owens, it is tough to know where certain noises are coming from, because the feel is sometimes altogether unworldly. The backbone to all of this is the downright spectacular drumming of Jon Theodore. Whether sitting back with Flea and remaining content to jam on a gentle groove, or flailing and pounding with as much precise power as anyone you’ve ever heard, his work here perfectly compliments that of his companions.
Now, can you imagine all of this blended together? As you may have guessed, it is an ambitious effort, and it could very well leave your brain hurting by the time all of the songs have wrapped themselves around you, because there is so much going on and so much to digest. There is truly no genre to define this one, as the list of bands it recalls could include everyone from Fugazi to Santana, from Led Zeppelin to Miles Davis. You’ll hear blazing rock-out sessions that are gone as quickly as they appear, as well as mind-bending jam breakdowns that stretch songs out for over 12 minutes, resulting in the sort of psychedelic-noise-punk that will leave you asking yourself questions for days. Example: “How do all of these noises and all of these varying elements fit together like one of the most interesting puzzles ever?”