As we celebrate the return and works of seminal post-hardcore godfathers At The Drive-In this week, we decided we’d also look at the members’ extracurriculars – the bands they’ve been in during and since – and what makes them equally worth your time.
We continue the series by looking at the main consideration NOT featuring Cedric or Omar. This is…
After the fallout from the Australian Big Day Out tour in January 2001, where At The Drive-In band stormed off stage in Sydney after bleating at the audience and calling them sheep for slam dancing, At The Drive-In‘s imminent split came rather quickly. By March the band had dissolved, much to the dismay of the public and seemingly at the height of their success so far as a band. Personally I didn’t take sides and early on enjoyed Sparta just as much as The Mars Volta. Having witnessed both bands in a live capacity, there was the obvious stark contrast between the Led Zeppelin-like prog/jam/seemingly free-form TMV performances, and Sparta’s more straight forward post-hardcore/rock approach.
“Cut Your Ribbon“
Sparta’s debut album Wiretap Scars was not as much of a departure from the ATDI sound as Volta’s, and was definitely more radio-friendly. Including three of the four tracks from the 2002 EP Austere, Wiretap Scars offered a glimpse of ATDI’s post-hardcore edge in lead single “Cut Your Ribbon” and different sections/choruses of other songs, but for the majority of the album a more tender, introspective sound can be heard. Jim Ward’s voice showed great range and affirmed what we heard from him sparingly in ATDI – he could hold his own as a front man.
Writing and performing with long time band mates Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos ensured that Sparta were a tight live unit and although relatively small when they started, they built a steady following.
“Breaking The Broken“
There is a more energetic feel to Porcelain than Wiretap Scars, with more driving riffs in songs like “Hiss The Villain“, “Travel By Bloodline ” and “Splinters“, while still keeping the mellower vibe present on “While Oceana Sleeps“, “Lines in Sand” and the last 5 minutes of “From Now to Ever“.
I’ll admit this is where my interest in Sparta dissipated, which pains me to say as listening to 2006′s album Threes I now realise my error. The single, “Taking Back Control” – which featured on the soundtrack for supernatural thriller The Invisible - is probably the closest in sound to the previous 2 albums.
“Taking Back Control“
The inclusion of acoustic guitar strengthens the album, to the point where I actually enjoy it more than Porcelain. A greater focus on the mellower aspect of their sound showcases Jim Ward’s songwriting strengths.
They released a 16-minute documentary Eme Nakia, which focused on drummer Tony Hajjar’s early life in Lebanon, to coincide with the release of Threes.
A hiatus was taken in 2008 and a quick reformation occurred in 2011 before the band fell quiet again. Ward worked on Sleepercar after the first hiatus and is currently touring solo acoustically. Hajjar is in the ‘supergroup’ Gone Is Gone with Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens Of The Stone Age and Troy Sanders of Mastodon (which we touched on during Mastodon Week) and obviously is part of the reformed ATDI – as is Hinojos, who left Sparta in 2005 to join The Mars Volta until 2009. Keeley Davis, who replaced him in Spara, is now also in ATDI.