The Mars Volta
De-Loused In The Comatorium (2021 Reissue)
Early in the formative stages of The Mars Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala distilled the essence of their mission to one simple phrase: “Honour our roots, honour our dead”.
This mindset found perfect expression in the group’s 2003 debut full-length, De-Loused In The Comatorium, a song cycle inspired by the life and death of the duo’s old friend, artist and provocateur Julio Venegas. Julio had such a profound influence on us, artistically, spiritually and personally,” says Omar. To Cedric, Julio’s story “was surreal and magical. When we were writing De-Loused I was listening to records like The Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow and Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, records that featured a central character throughout. So I thought, to pay tribute to Julio, I’d immortalise him on this album, because he was this unsung hero everyone should know about.” Cedric threaded Julio’s story into the album’s tale of its comatose hero, Cerpin Taxt, suspended in some hinterland between life and death following an overdose. However, this capsule retelling hardly does justice to Cedric’s complex, surreal, hyper-dramatic narrative, unfolding across the album’s eleven tracks and sung in a lexicon that drew upon English, Spanish and new words wholly invented by Ward, Bixler-Zavala and Venegas himself. The music that scored this powerful tale stepped beyond Tremulant’s fusion of Omar’s punk-rock instincts and the Caribbean, African and Latino sounds he’d been brought up on. Cedric had dubbed that sound-clash “Fela Jehu”, but De-Loused was a quantum leap further, making surer sense of his kaleidoscopic roots, driven by furious, muscular, syncopated drums and frenetic guitar parts, bending obtuse grooves to its will and twisting off in passionate, cathartic descarga like the salsa Omar had been immersed in since he was a kid. Finally accessing a palette he’d hungered after for years but felt unable to explore with At The Drive-In, Omar was a man unleashed, and composed his suite with the exacting vision of a movie director. So the taut rhythms, staccato attack and passionate keys of Inertiatic ESP segued into the mysterious chiaroscuro of Rouelette Dares (The Haunt Of) and its electrifying see-saw between junglist rock frenzy and psychedelic explorations of inner-space. So the ballistic rumba of Drunkship Of Lanterns slipped into the bold futurism of Eriatarka. So the epic Cicatriz ESP – equal parts punk-salsa bustle and communing-with-other-dimensions experimentalism – built towards the impassioned, near-operatic crescendos of This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed. And so the deeply melancholic Televators – Cedric’s final tribute to their beloved Julio, sombrely revisiting his tragic death – set the scene for the restless dash of the album’s climax, Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt. The tale was told as much by this desperately inventive, powerful music as by its text, Omar sculpting the dramatic tension and emotional intensity, and pacing the piece with masterful expertise. Omar produced the album alongside Rick Rubin at Rubin’s The Mansion studio in Malibu. Rubin and his studio had been recommended to Omar by his friend, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, who’d recorded their Blood Sugar Sex Magik at The Mansion some years before. Frusciante lent guitar and synthesiser to Cicatriz ESP, while Chili Peppers bassist Flea stepped into the breach left by the outgoing Eva Gardner. The fruitful bond between The Mars Volta and the Chili Peppers would only be strengthened by subsequent tours together that helped De-Loused In The Comatorium become a global phenomenon. But the true credit for the album belongs with Omar and Cedric, who sweat blood and moved mountains to do justice to their new group’s concept and potential, to bring their impossible visions to the world intact, and to honour their roots and honour their death. Mission accomplished. Where to next?
- Son Et Lumière
- Inertiatic ESP
- Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)
- Tira Me A Las Arañas
- Drunkship Of Lanterns
- Cicatriz ESP
- This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed
- Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt