Parents who don’t let their kids listen to Beatles records for the satanic messages revealed when an album is played backwards better lock their doors tight against The Mars Volta’s latest. At first glance, the lyrics off “The Bedlam in Goliath” sound like a mélange of apocalyptic doom, hysteria and general nonsense, but the lines came to The Mars Volta in a very different way.
According to band members, the lyrics are messages taken from an archaic Ouija board, “The Soothsayer,” bought by guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez for fellow band member Cedric Bixler-Zavala in Jerusalem. Upon playing with the board, they were contacted by a mother, daughter and man caught in a love-triangle. They named the trio “Goliath,” the same Goliath referenced in the album title.
The board then started creating problems for the band. Electrical equipment started malfunctioning, a band member’s house flooded, Bixler-Zavala had to undergo an operation on his feet and then learn how to walk again, a musical engineer went insane during recording. The band said they had to bury the board to continue recording.
The fantastic, however, verges on the downright creepy when there are lyrics such as “cipher is filled / with a / blanket of clots / taking everything / I’ve got / please let me in.” The other problem is that the music is simply not that good. All songs, bar “Soothsayer,” are incredibly dissonant and hint at a horror which is never quite fulfilled. Their sound is basically the feeble offspring of Marliyn Manson and Muse, just too shouty to be interesting.
Another problem is the album’s lack of variety. Bixler-Zavala’s voice crescendos and then whines down with the guitar rhythm over lyrics that are not really clear at all.
“Wax Simulacra,” the album’s single, is indicative of this sound, which grows more annoying with each song. The lyrics are fantastic: “I bring an avalanche of Toltec bones / contaminated cravings if you choose to / play something that aches for a spill” — particularly exciting in an album of strange poetry. If only they had been put to a different tune and been sung, instead of screamed, this could have been a great album. But they weren’t, and this isn’t. The constant willing of the spirits to get into bodies is chilling — “I crawl across the ceilings in your room / …I need something made of freewill” — if you can understand what Bixler-Zavala is saying.
“Ilyena,” named after Helen Mirren, is particularly disturbing, and “can’t spot through / the lens / bleeding through your sanctuary” doesn‘t really sound like the Queen. And it just sounds like the rest of them. Not since the Finnish funeral-doom band Thergothon’s 1991 release “Fhtagn nagh Yog-Sothoth,” has a band been able to play so badly, so repetitively.
The best song on the album is the aforementioned “Soothsayer,” which evokes images of Jerusalem and the Mullah’s call to prayer. The song moves into psychedelic shifts that undulate with the lyrics. Bixler-Zavala’s voice is mellowed and good use is made of spirit voices distorted and played in juxtaposition with the main tune. “In a field of balding marble / where the medicine awaits / the hourglass pokes at / the ribs of my cage” is simply inspired. This song is the only island of hope in the album’s sea of rubbish.
Aside from the lyrics, which make the album a worthy purchase, Jeff Jordan’s album art is fantastic and the album is available on a flash drive shaped in the form of a Ouija playing piece. The record version of the album even includes a Ouija board to tempt you into playing. But beware, if you’re hoping to get in touch with spirits, this isn’t the album to have playing in the background. Rather lamely, The Mars Volta have decided to include prayers and afro-Caribbean chants as protective charms. The first song, “Aberinkula” is named after the Nigerian drumming which accompanies some of the chants, not a sinister demon they met on their adventure.
Perhaps the bedlam of The Mars Volta will be cured one day and their music will recover from the downward spiral experienced since the release of “Here Comes The Mars Volta,” their first and best album.