Since I couldn’t come up with any smart introduction for this particular episode of A Scene In Retrospect – it’s not like the band and album in question would necessitate such anyway – I will just say this much: this time, It Djents PR/social media manager Inter, writer/editor David, and staff writer Patrick will give you their two cents on one of the defining prog rock records of the past 25 years, The Bedlam In Goliath by the inimitable The Mars Volta. Please enjoy!
‘If you could see where I’ve been/You’d touch the hand that’s touching sin’
Imagine hearing something like The Mars Volta when you’re a teenager. During a time when you’re in your formative years, filled with confusion and searching for your identity, this kind of music…does things to you. For me, it made me weird. I saw the band open for System of a Down in 2005 and it changed me forever. De-Loused in the Comatorium and Frances the Mute were my introductions to not only TMV as a band, but to modern progressive music as a whole.
My previous experience only being with classical prog outfits like Rush and Jethro Tull, bands that were pretty self-contained in their approach to music. TMV let prog off the leash, creating soundscapes that were sonically overwhelming at times, mind-altering even. Their unbridled energy spoke to me in ways that no other band could.
The Bedlam in Goliath is probably their best work ever, even if it’s not my favorite. If you know the troubled story behind the production of this album, then you know that it’s not an exaggeration that this album could have ended TMV as a band. It encapsulates the discordance brought on by powerful otherworldly curses and a pure divinity that’s reserved for the most pious. This is a contradictory concept, but one that’s presented so well by the album’s noise.
Tracks evolve over time, as if switching from one face to another. The mid-song beat switch on “Metatron” or the Latin fire of “Ilenya” are some of the best musical movements and melodies I’ve heard in my life. Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s voice is as boisterous and shifting as ever, commanding songs like the ringleader of a psychedelic circus. Bass-heavy funk infuses itself here more than ever; “Cavalettas” and “Agadez” are nightmare candy for smooth grooves. “Soothsayer” is one of the most massively ambitious tracks TMV have ever done with strings, field recordings from Jerusalem, choirs, beautiful Middle-Eastern rhythms and more. I could write a whole thousand words on this song alone.
I must stop soon, lest my fellow editors will surely curse me themselves. The Bedlam of Goliath is from another plane of existence. The story of its creation is worthy of a Hollywood biopic, while the music is worthy of soundtracking an acid high while the space-time continuum bisects itself in two. This is one of the best albums ever made from one of the most important bands ever assembled.
I guess everybody knows this: you have a band which isn’t in your heavy rotation on a daily (or even weekly level), but every time you put them on, you have to ask yourself why you don’t listen to them constantly. This is what happens every time I listen to The Mars Volta. Their richness, energy, and creativity don’t lose any impact even after all those years of listening to them; they are still one of the most impressive bands I’ve ever experienced.
The task to write exclusively about their fourth release The Bedlam In Goliath is a hard one, since it’s impossible for me to highlight one of their albums. They all deserve a highlighting.
As someone who got into prog with Tool and Porcupine Tree and later discovered classic stuff like Rush, Pink Floyd, ELP, King Crimson, and Genesis, listening to The Mars Volta for the first time was quite an experience. Coincidentally, the first album I’ve put on was The Bedlam In Goliath. I remember that I somehow skipped “Aberinkula” and started right away with “Metatron”. And my dear, what a ride. I’ve never heard something like that before, this was a completely new kind of prog. Where other prog bands tend to be overly intellectual, controlled and a bit tame, TMV had a juvenile energy, raw, uncontrolled, like a super wild and drugged jam with a bunch of extraordinary musicians who cram as many influences into one song as possible until something completely new is created. I instantly connected to Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s eccentric and unique voice, and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ guitar playing led me to question my own understanding of the instrument.
Nonetheless, my secret stars of this experience are Thomas Pridgen and Adrián Terrazas-Gonzáles. The drums and wind instruments are the icing on the cake, while also being the first layer of said cake. This album breathes energy and creativity, and it really pumps me up every time I listen to it.
I could list dozens of magical moments, but if I have to recommend you this album and you still question whether to listen to it or not, you’re doing something wrong anyway. The Mars Volta is essential for every music enthusiast, no matter which background he or she might have.
My experience with The Mars Volta is somewhat peripheral. I was more of a Sparta fan, so The Mars Volta was for me the ‘other side’ of At the Drive-In. It is easy to trace the origin of the funky, experimental grooves that are the strength of The Mars Volta in the music of their former band, they being absent from the band with which I was familiar. Still, The Bedlam in Goliath was nearly impossible to ignore, in large part due to the groundbreaking drumming of Thomas Pridgen. Friends and fellow musicians would talk about the band and it was usually in the context of the energetic drumming so prevalent in their music. With the advent of YouTube, I was able to explore their music a bit without fully committing.
The Bedlam in Goliath has one of the strongest opening tracks of any album ever, which makes the newcomer have to decide quickly how it will be received. “Aberinkula” pulled me in quickly, and I was at least curious to continue listening, despite being a stubborn purist for rock trio or quartet instrumentation. It was a breath of fresh air harmonically, favoring mediant relationships and diminished chord-based progressions in place of run-of-the-mill circle of fifths progressions. Also, the working in of Eastern melodies and instruments was surprisingly effective and appropriate. I was intrigued.
The next track that really grabbed my attention was “Goliath.” The psychedelic grooves conveyed by the organ, wah pedal, and guitar riff really resonated with me. The breakdown section at 3:50 made me think for a moment that I was listening to Jethro Tull, with all of its energy. Another aspect of the whole album that is made clearly evident in this track is the deliberate nature with which the lyrical and vocal line is delivered. Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s style of articulation seems more forceful and intentional on this song, as if there is a deeper significance to the “man” encountered.
Overall, I had great appreciation for what this band did on The Bedlam in Goliath. It was not my cup of tea, but it was a fresh take on contextualizing grooves and incorporating the ‘other’ in a rock context. This is to say nothing of the technical prowess required of the members to maintain the tightness of grooves in tracks like “Cavalettas.” It has been fun to revisit this band!
That’s all for now, folks; time sure does fly when you’re taking a stroll down memory lane! What are your personal thoughts on/associations with this record? Are there any you would like to see included among the illustrious ranks of this feature? Leave it all in the comments!
See y’all back here in fourteen days for another classic review! Until then, do stay safe out there, and as always…
…thanks for reading!