I’d written today’s Follow Friday post about a different band, one that pushed forward the punk and metal fusions we see so much at THE GARAGE, but then I learned yesterday that The Mars Volta broke up, so this is about them.
I’d only recently learned of At the Drive-In—the previous band of guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala—when they broke up. Their live performances, which I’ve only seen in videos online, were frantic, urgent, and violent. I couldn’t look away.
So when Omar and Cedric announced they were starting a new band, The Mars Volta, I followed all the coverage online.
Every day I listened to “Drunkship of Lanterns,” the single they put out ahead of their first album. It wasn’t the prog and punk of At the Drive-In. “Drunkship” had clear Latin beats and noodling riffs and it was 7(!!!) minutes long, but jeez did it rock.
When De-Loused in the Comatorium came out in 2003, I sat in the passenger seat of Jack’s idling ride (THE GARAGE’s event booker) as we listened, drumming along on the dash to our favorite parts. When “Inertiatic ESP” rushed in, I tasted metallic adrenaline. When the build in “Roulette Dares” slowly rose, I had to sing a long. When Cedric sang in “Televators,” I swear the world fell away and I was floating through spiraling colors.
I wanted my then band, a punk/ska group, to be as daring as The Mars Volta (I lost that fight and my membership as a result). My thinking: The Mars Volta made music and that blended of seemingly disparate genres sound so cool, so alive, so important. And isn’t that was music should do?
Not everyone loved them. Pitchfork’s hilariously poor reviews are a great example. But for those of us who did, we were rewarded with the same blazing live shows as I’d watched At the Drive-In do over and over online.
The Mars Volta was epic, creating concept albums and songs that sprawled beyond the length of many punk albums in my CD book (when they were still a thing). They rewarded multiple listens and patience and an open mind—all things I treasure now as a music writer.
All the members that rotated through the group were incredibly talented musicians who were able to fully flex their music muscles with the ambitious group’s support.
With The Mars Volta’s demise, the world’s left without their sound, one that has not and, I imagine, will not ever be replicated.
We have only the six full-length albums they released over nine years. That’s only seven hours of captured inspiration. But I suppose it’s a well that, no matter how many times it’s drawn from, will never run dry.