Dusting Off... The Mars Volta's Deloused in the Comatorium
What is it?
Having recorded four albums with post-hardcore band At The Drive-in, by the turn of the millenium frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez were beginning to get itchy feet. Although their final album, Relationship of Command, had won the band much critical acclaim and some commercial success, the pair were beginning to feel hemmed in by the band's limitations and wanted to make more expansive, progressive music. Dissolving the At The Drive-In shortly after the album's release, the pair formed The Mars Volta. By 2003, they were ready to release their debut LP, Deloused in the Comatorium.
Produced by the band along with Rick Rubin, the album offered a much more intricate sound than their previous albums under the At The Drive-in moniker. It is essentially a concept album based on a short story Bixler-Zavala had written about a character called Cerpin Taxt, who falls into a coma after consuming a cocktail of opiates and rat poison. The character is reportedly based on Bixler-Zavala's friend and renowned El Paso, Texas artist Julio Venegas, who had died seven years earlier.
The album's cryptic but poetic lyrics seem to be written from the point of view of Taxt in his unconscious state, sung in a much more melodic fashion than At The Drive-in's often shouty vocals and showcasing Bixler-Zavala's impressive vocal talents. While Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar work is still very recognisable, on this album it's as if the shackles are off and he turns in some incredible guitar work, particularly on 'Eriatarka' and 'Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)', while Jon Theodore's phenomenal drumming takes the band's sound into a totally different league than that of its predecessor. The result is a highly experimental - but accessible - record with intricate riffs, pounding drums and soaring vocal melodies that takes the listener on a real voyage.
Why should I revisit?
After some of the self-indulgent records that emerged during the mid-1970s from bands like Yes and Genesis, the last thing any band wanted to be labelled as was 'progressive rock', but Deloused in the Comatorium is maybe the first album where it became acceptable again. Yes, there's the lofty, slightly weird concept, but there are no over-indulgent keyboard solos rumbling on for twenty minutes at a time and the album genuinely pushes the boundaries of what a rock band can be, without pushing itself over the edge.
Who will enjoy it?
Those who enjoyed At The Drive-in's albums should still find plenty to enjoy about this album, but anyone who enjoys rock music with a more experimental edge should add this to their collections as soon as possible.