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 finish this series with a very in-depth look (bear with us; we absolutely loved these guys) at perhaps the best known band to come out of the split…
The Mars Volta
2001 – 2012
As far as musical projects go, past the first – the one that makes a musician famous – it’s not common for the second to potentially outstrip the first, but The Mars Volta, Cedric and Omar’s post-ATDI progressive rock megalith, arguably falls onto that category.
Certainly in longevity; At The Drive-In’s original run was about seven years, whereas The Mars Volta lasted for over a decade, and produced a wealth of music spanning six studio albums, two live records, and an EP.
The EP is where the first tentative steps were taken. Tremulant, released in the year following At The Drive-In’s split, initially marries that ATDI sound with progressive elements on opener “Cut That City“, but by the time “Concertina” rolls round, they’re in full-blown prog territory.
It’s rarely mentioned in the TMV pantheon, but as a snapshot of the journey between the bands, it’s really interesting; Cedric sings a lot more, and the songs are more long-form – the obvious trademark of prog.
“Concertina” itself is certainly the EP’s centrepiece, and is reportedly about former ATDI bandmate Ben Rodriguez, who the pair regard a sociopath and hold responsible for the suicide of Julio Venegas, the subject of follow-up album De-Loused In The Comatorium.
Speaking of, De-Loused In The Comatorium was released the following year. The title is taken from a lyric in Tremulant‘s final song “Eunuch Provocateur“, inexorably tying the two together.
The Mars Volta’s music is notable for being almost entirely composed by Omar, and it saw him doubling down on jazz and Latin-influenced ryhthms, more dissonant guitars, and a complex machine of moving parts by way of multiple instruments.
With Cedric still handling the lyrics, and a more expansive pallette over which to paint, De-Loused became their first fully-fledged concept record. With Jeremy Ward (he also of De Facto), he wrote short story -which can be read here – about a man called Cerpin Taxt, who overdoses on a mix of heroin and rat poison and enters a week-long coma; a fever-dream from which he eventually wakes, only to kill himself. The story alludes to Julio Venegas, but takes on a fantastical element which pervades the entire record.
“Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt“
Two years later, follow-up Frances The Mute also dealt with the death of a close friend in a fantastical manner; this time Ward himself, who died a month before De-Loused was released. During his time working as a repo man, Ward found a diary in the backseat of a car which detailed an orphan’s journey to discover their biological parents – something with which Ward related. The track titles of France The Mute relate to characters within the story; another strange tale, of revenge and sorrow.
If De-Loused was ambitious, then Frances The Mute bordered on pretentious. In fact, it straight up is pretentious – very – but it is such a detailed, immersive album that if you can stomach the protracted interludes of children playing, or the long-ass build-ups to songs like ”Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore“, it’s a real treat on multiple levels. It’s famous for having been recorded blind; that is to say, each member was given their parts separately by Omar, and they were recorded without having heard anything else. That it came together so completely is quite impressive to say the least.
Just as long, but perhaps less pompous, third album Amputechture felt at least fuller, if not even more musically ambitious. Omar really hit his stride on this one; absolutely ginormous tracks like “Meccamputechture“, “Day Of The Baphomets“, or the absolutely superlative “Tetragrammaton” demand the listener’s attention.
With only two of the eight tracks clocking in under seven minutes long, Amputechture is admittedly very indulgent. Interestingly though, it’s not a concept album; each song deals with a subject generally unrelated to the others in any specific way, bar perhaps a couple of allusions to Jesus in the titles of “Vicarious Atonement” and “El Ciervo Vulnerado” and the scope of religion’s effect on the world.
So again, Amputechture requires a certain amount of patience for the layman to penetrate, and it is perhaps the least relatable to the rest of their discography