The Mars Volta
The Bedlam in Goliath (Universal)
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Feb. 8, 2008
The Mars VoltaThe Bedlam in Goliath (Universal)
"Follow me into oblivion," shrieks vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala during the hypercharged funk meltdown "Ilyena" on The Bedlam in Goliath. Anyone who's followed the Mars Volta knows the El Paso-bred ensemble has been rocketing through space like a lethal meteor since 2003's debut full-length, De-Loused in the Comatorium, but the band's fourth LP marks another quantum leap. It's a black hole of esoteric expressionism, as baffling as it is brilliant. There are moments of rare transcendence, like the Middle Eastern- and orchestra-accented "Soothsayer," with its pixilated, spiral galaxies of guitar provided by producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and guest John Frusciante, but most of them are so heavily condensed that it leaves the listener bracing for the big bang that never comes. Opener "Aberinkula" and single "Wax Simulacra" fuse free jazz horns with voltaic prog-rock, led by Bixler Zavala's helium-fueled falsetto and Ouija board lyricism, while frustratingly epic, sonic explorations like "Goliath" and "Cavalettas" recall the solar spectacles envisioned by Douglas Adams' Disaster Area. "Tourniquet Man" rekindles the druggy sci-fi interludes of 2005 sophomore album Frances the Mute. "Metatron" elicits vertigo with a whirlwind of manic percussion and awkward time signatures, and "Agadez" shifts in shape and color from Latin psychedelia to Funkadelic futurism and At the Drive-In abrasion before stumbling into a vortex of white noise, not unlike "Conjugal Burns." Oblivion in Goliath.