Rhythm & Views

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta really understand the whole prog-rock thing: unapologetic excess, esoteric self-referentiality, endless songs filled with sudden tempo changes and bizarre rhythms.

The Bedlam in Goliath kicks off on "Aberinkula," with vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala screeching operatically over crashing drums and spacey synth sounds. The rest of the album follows with a frenzied, masturbatory urgency that makes me want to call it "cock rock," except I don't want to grant the band that fun kind of trashy sexuality.

The mythology surrounding The Bedlam in Goliath smacks of clever marketing more than rock-star eccentricity (though it's definitely got some of that, too). It's a concept album about a cursed Ouija board named "the Soothsayer" that wreaks vengeance on the band during the writing and recording of the record. Allegedly, the album's themes, track titles, song motifs and lyrics were all drawn from the Soothsayer's rambling predictions.

It's all supposed to evoke some pre-biblical aesthetic that imbues the music with a primordial dangerousness. In an MTV.com interview, Bixler-Zavala claimed he wove elements of the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria into the songs to give the album "a protective skin." Somehow, warnings about Babylonian rock-music demons on MTV.com just don't pack a punch.

But the band just goes for it. Witness the demonic, slowed-down babbling on "Tourniquet Man," and the sacrificial-temple-music-cum-rock-opera vibe of songs "Askepios" and "Soothsayer."

For a select set of naïve, Dungeons and Dragons-loving stoners, this album is probably the best thing to happen in rock since, well, Jethro Tull? For the rest of us, I'm not so sure.

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