A Creepy Masterpiece – The Greatest Album of All Time
I was away last week, until the Saturday just gone (this is Reuben, by the way). What came as great news to me was that there was one post up here in that time period. I was an unhappy lil’ man. AGAIN. Oh well, eh? I’m back now, so you can have more crappy content! Also, I thought I needed to do more music reviews ‘nd stuff, because content has been running a little dry on that front lately – so expect a lot more CD reviews in the coming weeks. Just to cap this introduction of, I think I should inform you a little about The Mars Volta if you aren’t well acquainted with them. They’re a band that was formed by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala of At the Drive-In in 2002, and carried over some of the mad punk of At the Drive-In while adding in many progressive rock features, a lot of guitar solos, newly high pitched and clean vocals, and not to mention fast paced and extremely skilled drumming — as well as an effective sound wall. They’re also one of the more successful prog artists, and somehow Frances the Mute and The Bedlam In Goliath both charted in the top 5 in the US Billboard 200 – not to say they didn’t deserve the attention. Now, The Bedlam In Goliath, their 4th studio album, is my personal favourite of theirs and is my pick for the best album of all time. An ambitious claim, to say the least.
Some prog fans and Mars Volta fans alike (a lot of which on Prog Archives) aren’t so big on it, as they reckon there isn’t enough of the actual prog itself in there and Thomas Pridgen’s drumming is just plain over-the-top. I, on the other hand, am a huge, huge fan of it.
The Bedlam In Goliath starts literally with Cedric screaming (never fear, timid fans! Not metal screaming.), in the perfect opener that is Aberinkula. As soon as it begins, it is made clear by The Mars Volta that this album is gonna be no Elton John. It’s funky, it’s mad, it’s heavy, and it’s a little bit weird – but hey, this is The Mars Volta we’re talking about — they’re the kings of weird. Aberinkula and all of the rest of the album is completely unorthodox. But Aberinkula, if anything, is perhaps the album’s most regular song with its mid-pace and chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-interlude-verse-chorus structure. ALTHOUGH, in one bar they play it at 15/16. Okaaaay then.
Anyways, Omar has done a fair amount in his career that’s in the same vein as that bar, he plays a lot of dissonant guitar, and as the band has often done, a fair few of the songs are in odd time signatures; Wax Simulacra, for example, is in 11/8 throughout the whole song — try nodding your head to that one!
There is so much originality on show from the very start here. Most striking are Cedric’s screeching vocals, which most definitely work with the music. Then there’s the band’s ability to create this incredible sound wall of keyboards at the very heart of it, high volume bass, drifting and shredding guitar work everywhere, mad vocals and saxophone to make it that much more unique. The instrumentals and musicianship that make this incredible sound are superb. From the refined and stylised vocals by Cedric to the top-class guitar playage (new word, if you didn’t know) of Omar, the driven and extremely skilled bass of Juan Alderete, the slightly creepy saxophone and the energised and background improving keyboards of the tragically passed Ikey Owens. It’s one groovy and loud sound.
These are perhaps the most vital ingredient to the success of The Bedlam In Goliath, and the driving force for the album. Whilst some think Thomas Pridgen’s constant light-speed battering of the drum set is just plain ridiculous, personally, I think it adds to the album enormously. It complements the rest of the mad music in this record so perfectly as it carries it along at high pace, so even when there’s a slow in pace you are still being punched in the face by his electric drumming. In fact, Tourniquet Man is my least favourite song on the record, and that’s because it doesn’t have the funk of Pridgen’s drums. Soothsayer is also slightly lacking in that aspect, also being a slightly weaker song on the album – although still beneficial for its overall tone (I’ll get onto that). However, I do appreciate that his out of the ordinary play style can mean his drumming lacks organisation at times, and he can get carried away. For that reason I think Jon Theodore of previous Mars Volta and possibly Deantoni Parks of Noctourniquet are perhaps better drummers. Nonetheless, Thomas Pridgen is the perfect match for The Bedlam In Goliath and its relentlessly funky aesthetic.
Juan Alderete’s bass is also a very important part of The Bedlam In Goliath’s music. Coupled with Pridgen’s incredible drumming, Alderete’s loud, funky bass lines provide constant rhythmic heaven. Even though Day of the Baphomets acted as a stage for his bass playing skill in the band’s previous album (Amputetchure), he probably hadn’t performed his best work until 2008 came around with this beast of an album. Aberinkula, Ilyena and Goliath are probably the prime examples for the aforementioned funk. Or should I say FUNK? Yes, that is necessary.
If you were scared, I think I should say that The Bedlam In Goliath isn’t totally relentless. There’s the odd interlude and build up section. But, yes, it is mostly just plain mental. I’d like to say that if you’re a prog fan who’s coming to this not into the ol’ heavy music, give it a chance. I’m sure prog-heads (if that’s something people say) might appreciate Ouroboros if any of the songs, that’s probably the most light hitting one of them all (I’ll talk more about that too). Give it a few listens even if you don’t like it. You will find that under the covers there is awesome funk and prog rock in a masterful orgy of music. I know Milo isn’t that appreciative of The Mars Volta, but that’s because he’s a pleb. THERE, I SAID IT.
The energy somehow contained in this album is just incredible. It was in 2008 when The Mars Volta truly came to life – not to say the albums prior to Bedlam weren’t also masterpieces. I think what puts this album over Amputetchure and Frances the Mute, at least, is that the one dud song on the record benefits the album’s tone, whereas a few tracks on Frances the Mute are rife with noodling and noodling only (not necessarily a bad thing though, a bit o’ noodling’s alright) and a couple on Amputetchure are very slow burners and lack the melodies or energy of the rest of the album. Tourniquet Man on The Bedlam In Goliath, however, even as a pretty un-special song, adds to the tone, and I think is a necessary part of the album if you listen to it as one whole. This particular tone is part of telling a story about a weird-as encounter with a Ouija board in the middle-east. The voice effects and sinister saxophone as well as the dissonant guitar bars all make this tone, and that is what the Tourniquet Man partly is. Soothsayer is also a song for the whole album, and is pretty creepy. That is a massively unique and daring thing to do, though. To focus more on the album’s tone rather than the music and accessibility is something few bands do and get right. Although Omar, Cedric and the gang did this a few times with Amputetchure and Frances the Mute, this was the first time in my opinion when they hit the nail on the head. Come to think of it, I suppose Tourniquet Man also offers listeners a small time to breath, too.
The fantastic thing about The Bedlam In Goliath is that it does not only prevail as a full listen but also in its individual songs. Each song other than Tourniquet Man is a wondrous listen from start to finish, as explosions of funk punk jazz fusion prog rock. Bedlam is accomplished not only in its musicianship and its energy, but also in its quality melodies, which leave a very memorable effect after your done with the album – which would have gone very quickly. It’s literally like an explosion.
Goliath, for one, is probably my favourite song ever. That gets the melodies absolutely spot on. So do Ilyena, Ouroboros, Metatron, Agadez and Conjugal Burns, not to mention ALL THE REST. There are so much amazing guitar solos, too, which I much appreciate; and variation is available too. Certainly, every song is different to the other, although they all use the same general sound. There are also expertly done beat changes all over the joint, and great quiet, LOUD sections. Also appreciated.
In a fit of not really wanting to write much more and feeling like I can come up with a conclusion now, I’m ending this review. I’m sure you’ve taken from how incessantly positive I’ve been about everything, I like this album quite a lot. The Bedlam In Goliath is indeed what I would say is “The Greatest Album of All Time”. I’ve been loving it for about the last four years and I won’t stop loving it. It’s got everything. It’s heavy, energetic, funky, shredding guitar filled brilliance.
This is essential listening for anyone into alternative music; there is nothing else quite like it.
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