Written language can scarcely do justice to the manic musical scrawl of The Mars Volta, the Long Beach acid-prog collective steered by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. And The Bedlam in Goliath, TMV’s fourth studio album, is as inscrutable as anything in the band’s catalog to date, if not moreso, brimming with chaotically orchestrated ensemble passages and Rodriguez-Lopez’s epileptic guitar frenzies, and driven lyrically by a storyline that has something to do with the exorcism of a rogue oiuja board that reportedly rained vengeful destruction on the band’s Bedlam recording sessions.
If that sounds daunting, then maybe you’d best introduce yourself to Volta by listening to one of the band’s previous studio releases—maybe De-Loused in the Comatorium from ’03, or ’05’s Frances the Mute. While those earlier platters are no less technically accomplished or thematically dense than Bedlam, they at least offer up a few more of those elegantly melodic hooks that intermittently leaven the craziness on TMV records, like so many eyes in a storm.
For the rest of us, Bedlam in Goliath offers more of what we crave from The Mars Volta, that peculiar, and peculiarly inexplicable, stripe of unhinged genius, a combination of instrumental virtuosity and complex musical arrangements and loopy metaphysical underpinnings that always seemed fuck-all silly in the hands of old-school prog rockers like Yes and Crimson and Rush. How much longer can Volta milk that trick without it sounding like rehash or—worse yet—self-parody? I dunno. But it’s all good through Bedlam, possessed ouijas be damned.