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Now playing At the Drive-In: The Rise of Sparta

It's not terribly surprising, given the trio's history together, that most of the songs on Austere sound very much as though At the Drive-In might have gotten around to them eventually. Or already had: "Cataract" is more or less a companion to Relationship's "Invalid Litter Dept," and Ward's vocals are, occasionally, almost indistinguishable from Bixler's audio acrobatics. Yet Austere is a slightly more accessible version of ATDI's angry and angular prog-punk; the songs are as anthemic as ever but also more focused, with less salt and more sugar. It's still not clear why Ward calls Billy Joel's "Piano Man" one of his biggest influences, but he sounds a little closer to it this time.

The real difference between the two projects is found in the EP's last song, "Echodyne Harmonic (D-Mix)," with its ticklish drum-'n'-bass bottom and Ward's distorted distress signal ("I'm fading out," he repeats over and over). It's less song than sound, although there's a melody in there somewhere, an electronic excursion that steps confidently away from ATDI's past and into Sparta's future. It wasn't a conscious reaction against the former band, Hajjar says, though he doesn't mind much if people hear it that way.

"One weird thing that happened with the other band is, for some reason, since we recorded with a heavier producer and some of our songs came off really, really powerful and heavy, we were starting to get associated with metal bands and nü-metal bands," he explains. "And that was everything we weren't. That's not for it or against it -- it's just everything that we really weren't or weren't trying to be. So that was weird for us. We love people coming to our shows in general, and we always have, but at the same time, we were like, 'Whoa, these guys want to kill each other.' We're not about that. We're, like, wimps."

No murderous nü-metal fans for us, please: We're Sparta, and we're wimps.
No murderous nü-metal fans for us, please: We're Sparta, and we're wimps.

Details

Sparta appears in support of Weezer on Thursday, August 1, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. Dashboard Confessional is also on the bill. For more information, call 281-363-3300.

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"We couldn't jump into a crowd and hurt anybody, even if we really tried, you know?" he adds, laughing. "The whole association thing was weird in that respect, and now, with this band, we don't have any expectations of ourselves or the product that comes out of this studio. And I think that's the best thing to have. We're not expected to do anything, and we're not trying to do anything. And if you're that free in your spirit, then it's okay."

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