Album review: Intense, psychadelic, progressive rock lands in Grand Park, Los Angeles3 min read
by MAX STEINBAUM
On June 19, 2022, a black cube popped up in Grand Park, Los Angeles. The cube was inscribed with “The Mars Volta” on the sides; emanating from it was a bright orange light and an early preview of one of the band’s upcoming songs, “Blacklight Shine.”. Anyone curious enough to enter the cube was greeted by a mesmerizing light show. Tweets from the band titled the cube “L’YTOME HODORXÍ TELESTERION,” and the multimedia experience served as an announcement for their album, which was eventually released last September. After ten years without a release, fans and media started buzzing about what could be coming next from the band.
Interviews from the founding members, Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, hinted at a change coming in the band’s sound. In an interview with The Quietus, Rodríguez-López said, “Ten years ago, the most revolutionary thing we could do was make a pop record.” But now, “revolutionary” has a new meaning to the band, and their resurgence only leaves you wanting more. Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala were in the post-hardcore band At the Drive-In from 1994 to 2002. The band saw widespread success, especially with their final album “Relationship of Command,” but the momentum and enthusiasm halted as tours continued and the band split up. Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala formed The Mars Volta, hoping to perform their creativity without scrutiny from other bandmates, as well as to have a place to proudly display their Puerto Rican heritage in their work with both English and Spanish lyrics. Their intense, psychedelic, progressive rock sound with a clear influence of salsa and jazz is uniquely theirs.
Their first LP, “Deloused in the Comatorium,” which was released in 2003, exhibits this musical freedom and expression within the first heavy rhythmic strums of “Inertiatic Esp.” The album was produced with a lineup of known heavy hitters around the Los Angeles music scene; it was produced by the masterful Rick Rubin with fast-paced rhythmic bass from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and powerful, catchy hits by Queens of the Stone Age’s Jon Theodore on the drums. Rubin’s methodology and framework transformed the crunchy and shallow “Landscape Tantrums” demo tapes into a polished, post-progressive masterpiece that still stands to this day.
Over time, the band’s style has changed from the aggressive and piercing sounds of the debatably cursed album “The Bedlam in Goliath” to the free-flowing and smooth “Amputechture” and the more electronica-inspired “Noctourniquet,” all of which blend some Puerto Rican rhythms and flair. The Mars Volta have never been one to stray away from new ideas, influences and experimentation, even at the risk of losing fans or enthusiasm in their music.
“The Mars Volta,” their self-titled album released on Sept. 16, 2022, suits the artists as well as the current state of music better than if the band tried to relive their past hits or maintain their old style at this point in their career. Swaying synths and enveloping guitar are led by organized drums and Bixler-Zavala’s melodies that wind across the tracks. Compared to The Mars Volta’s previous works, the album sounds much more brushed than more tinny, crunchy albums like “Bedlam,” and it’s much easier to listen to. From die-hard fans, first impressions of the self-titled album were mixed. But Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala’s passion and new approaches to their sound make the present state of the band clear and are why many fans stick around. The new sound is here, but it is nothing unexpected. The ability of the band to exhibit their distinctive style and sound in everything that they do—even on their polished new album—emphasizes the mission behind their current approach to their music post-hiatus. While first impressions were skeptical, it is now clear that the self-titled record holds its place well in the collective The Mars Volta discography.
Singles are currently being released for “Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazon,” an acoustic version of their last LP which will be out on April 23!