As far out as its moniker, the Mars Volta says yes to nearly every prog-rock pretension. Guitars replicate Santana's fretboard acrobatics one moment, whale calls the next. Congas, marimbas and ominous electronics add color and claustrophobia to the band's dense, impenetrable sound. Front man Cedric Bixler Zavala's opaque lyrics are as puzzling as a Rubik's Cube, topped off with song titles such as "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt." Taken together, it all forms one of the most breathtaking debuts in recent memory: The band's recently released premiere full-length, De-loused in the Comatorium, is post-punk at its most beautiful and ambitious.
Formed from the remnants of El Paso firebrands At the Drive-In, Mars Volta sprang from the untimely demise of one of rock's most promising acts. Since then, tragedy has continued to envelop the band. Its effects manipulator, Jeremy Ward, died from a drug overdose in May. Moreover, Comatorium is a concept album inspired by the life and times of artist Julio Venegas, a friend of the band who also died of a drug overdose, in 1996. After this latest death, though, the Mars Volta has responded by breathing new life into rock and roll.
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Just as Saul Williams has done for the spoken-word scene. Williams's wall of words is as dense a thicket of language as Mars Volta's jungle of notes, and all you poets, spoken-word artists or whatever the hell you call yourselves should jump for joy. Seeing this scraggly-bearded, utterly eloquent wordsmith drop a verse or two may be just what our stagnant, petty poetry community needs for inspiration. After all, Williams, the star of the movie Slam a few years back, has shown that you can be successful spouting verses for a living -- a couple of years back, he dropped his first CD, Amethyst Rock Star, for Rick Rubin's American Recordings label. What's more, you can keep your integrity intact, as Williams has shown by contributing a couple of tunes to the anti-war EP Not In Our Name.