The Bedlam in Goliath
by the Mars Volta
(Universal Motown Records/Gold Standard Laboratories, January 2008)

Have you seen the living?
Tired of their own shells?
All the non-believers
Torso in the well…

With that we enter the chaos, the maelstrom of The Bedlam in Goliath.

The name itself reveals what you are subjecting yourself to: madness on a giant scale.

There are stories of an old “Soothsayer” board, purchased by the band in Jerusalem, through which the characters in the album were introduced.

The band themselves tell tales of the board bringing misfortune into their lives.

Guitarist and composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s home studio flooded and was destroyed during the recording of the album.

Key wizard Ikey Owens later joined Jack White’s band and met an untimely death while on tour in Mexico.

Can this be attributed to the Soothsayer board and the spirit of The Bedlam in Goliath? Some would argue yes.

Are these instead simply tall tales used as a marketing ploy to sell records? Probably. Yet that doesn’t make it less interesting.

What can be said about this album? Certainly a lot, and as with any music, written language barely scratches the surface.

It encompasses life and death along it’s journey, twisting you slowly into the underworld before pulling you out from the depths to your resurrection.

Rising out of the ashes of the legendary At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar wanted to take a different path from the screaming sounds of their youth.

After their hit album Relationship of Command, everyone was confused as to why they would quit at the height of their popularity, but they knew why.

They knew they could do more.

The path they chose was one of experimentation and exploration, also known as “let’s find the best musicians we can, turn on a fuck ton of pedals, and make these fuckers lose their minds. Also, Cedric, learn how to sing.”

The Mars Volta has been an obsession of mine since I first heard them.

When they released De-Loused in the Comatorium in 2003, they redefined what current rock music could be.

Many will claim it is their best album, and you could make a strong argument that is the case.

To me, it is the new classic rock: something that will still be appreciated and perhaps more fully understood decades after it’s creation.

In my time listening to the Mars Volta, I’ve been more interested in the experience of their evolution of sound, concluding with 2012’s Noctourniquet.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

The Bedlam in Goliath is one hour and 16 minutes of unadulterated insanity. While perhaps not as brutal as contemporary metal bands, I would argue it’s even less accessible than what some consider to be brutal death metal or black metal.

The album starts off blisteringly intense with “Aberinkula,” evoking imagery of lost temples and forgotten eras, with Thomas Pridgen drumming mightily to keep the beast chained.

Juan Alderete, stable as always, uses his bass to help keep everything on it’s daunting pace.

As Cedric weaves his own poetry, Omar is constantly layering, and layering, and layering, depths and depths of sounds.

Clearly drawing inspiration from such acts as King Crimson and Pink Floyd with their earlier meandering works and instrumentation, they manage to carve out their own niche here.

If you can make it through this, you’ll enjoy the rest. I always think of their music as a kind of shit test; a lot of the time, the meat is at least three-quarters of the way through the song.

It’s a solid way to weed out those whom I refer to as “the faint of ear.”

Some talk of the ancient pyramids as temples used for rituals involving sounds or music, possibly after the consumption of psychoactive substances.

If you like those kinds of things, I recommend taking them and listening to this music. I always did.

After you enter the Temple (pyramid?) of “Aberinkula” with it’s psychedelic swirling cacophony, “Metatron” follows, as you begin your cleansing ritual into ego death.

Within the lyrics of “Metatron” (the voice of God), there is talk of “water thirsting” and things “right outside your window.”

Is this an invitation to let a cleansing flood wash over you?

“Ilyena” follows, which I would argue is the most accessible track on the album, and the only one that would be considered radio-length. It’s good, listen to it.

This is a prime example of what I like to call their “latin-space-funk” sound.

“Goliath” is when the album really picks up, and it is arguably the focal point (could you tell by the title of the album)?

It speaks of a disembodied entity wishing to retake a human form. Will you be its vessel?

I fear I speak too much…my words are but a sign pointing you in the direction of another sign…

Putting music into words always seemed a fruitless task to me: either you get it or you don’t.

When asked what his lyrics mean, Cedric has always said “whatever you interpret them to mean.” That’s half the fun, I suppose. So draw your own conclusions.

If you are fan of the esoteric and the mystical, you will find many familiar references. Even if you are simply a fan of words themselves, you will find a treasure trove.

Each new Volta album always had me looking up words I hadn’t known, or trying to understand Cedric’s newly created words like “Amputechture,” which I interpret as “the restructuring of bodies.”

This is very intentional art.

I’ve always been a big believer that you find music when you are meant to find it.

I’ve known about albums for years that I never listened to, and when I finally did, it seemed I had enough life experience or enough of a base of other music to where it really clicked for me.

You never know until you try.

There is a conclusion to be reached, but it is up to you to discover it.

If I am to say anything, it is that if you are one who is looking for something, let this help you on your path.

Lyrically cryptic, auditorily exhausting, and wholly intentional. The message is there if you are open to accept it.

It is designed for those that are on a path towards the unknown…seek, and you shall find.

Click here to buy The Bedlam in Goliath.