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Witch Board Blues

The Mars Volta: It takes two.
Ross Halfin

The legend is such: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, six-string slinger and otherworldly composer for The Mars Volta, was one day rummaging around a junk shop in Jerusalem when he stumbled upon a Ouija board. Never one to pass up a chance at cosmic fate, he bought the thing and then brought it home to the studio. The rest, as they say, is a mystery.

No sooner had the band set up shop and started toying with the game of afterlife than strange things began occurring. Tracks would inexplicably erase, an engineer would repeatedly throw fits (and ultimately have to remove himself from the sessions), and all kinds of ghosts moved in to every one of their machines. So heavy was the haunting, in fact, that Omar eventually had to bury the board in the back yard.

The sound of The Mars Volta's latest long-play, The Bedlam in Goliath, indicates he didn't bury it nearly deep enough. Talk about para-abnormal. TMV has always been posthumanly prog, but this is ridiculous. Incubi sweep in for an onslaught of killer kisses, succubae ring wombs dry, and that little voice inside all of our minds starts screaming like a banshee — a psycho banshee who's now starring in a splattering fest of torture porn, that is.

Which is why we listen to TMV, and why we dig tracks such as "Wax Simulacra," Bedlam's first single, and its sonic smash-and-grab bag of wizard trickery, or "Aberinkula" the LP's lead-off screamer, and its pointed policy of thrashing-and-burning your idols.

It's also why we might get surprised by songs such as "Ilyena," which is so positively melodic it could be played on radio (okay, a radio broadcasting from a galaxy far, far away, but a radio nonetheless), yet not in the least taken aback by the ghouly "Tourniquet Man," which sounds like it was written by that ol' Ouija board itself.

Yes, TMV might still be basking in the speculative fiction of its Rick Rubin-produced debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium, but their speculations have taken on a whole new preposterousness. And even if the boys no longer look back and play anything from their late, great At the Drive-In, maybe we'll get lucky and they'll bash out a cover of Circle Jerks' "Back up Against the Wall." But even if they don't, fret not. It's a cinch they'll be backing you against the wall anyway, with your fist raised high in their rarefied air.


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