Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
The Mars Volta's 'De-Loused In The Comatorium' Turns 20: Inside Their Alien New World
At The Drive-In's energy was, and still might be, unmatched. But as the Mars Volta, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López got even more outré — and their debut album, 'De-Loused in the Comatorium,' was an opening salvo to remember.
Rock history contains reams of bands that blew apart just as they blew up — and At the Drive-In might be the most extreme example.
Their guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, may have decried the mix of 2000's Relationship of Command as "passive, plastic… it's the one record I still to this day cannot listen to." But he was doing it a disservice, perhaps by being too close to the object: every scream and arcane lyric and rhythmic left turn adds up to an album of whiplash impact.
But maybe he had a point, in that the final At the Drive-In record — almost by necessity — couldn't capture the napalm of the band live. Just watch them tear into "Arcarsenal" or "One Armed Scissor" or "Cosmonaut" back then — their bodies seem to never touch the ground.
One world tour later, At the Drive-In announced they were taking an "indefinite hiatus"; Rodríguez-López cited "a non-stop six-year cycle of record/tour/record/tour," adding that the group needed "time to rest up and re-evaluate."
That break would last for an entire decade, and couldn't solely be chalked up to exhaustion. "We just have to iron out a lot of personal things," vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala said in 2009 — more than a year before At the Drive-In would officially announce their reunion.
Given how hard-partying, high-flying and hard-everything At the Drive-In were — and how relationships had frayed in the wake of their implosion — Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López could have hit a wall. Instead, they created music that married the post-hardcore band's intensity to more cerebral, complex and challenging ends.
Thus, the very same year At the Drive-In ran aground, the Mars Volta were born. After a promising 2002 EP, Tremulant, they fully flowered with 2003's De-Loused in the Comatorium.
On June 24, the Rick Rubin-assisted album turned 20. Although there have been a multitude of twists and turns in the band's career since — including a recent return after a decade off — it remains one of their most beloved albums, if not the most beloved.
For one, De-Loused in the Comatorium featured one of the lineup-fluid band's most powerful iterations: Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López, along with keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, bassist Flea, drummer Jon Theodore, and effects whiz Jeremy Ward. MVP moments from all these accompanists are abundant, but Flea has a particularly revealing showing; his tense, understated playing is vastly divergent from his slap-saturated Red Hot Chili Peppers parts.
Compositionally, highlights like "Iniertiatic ESP," "Drunkship of Lanterns" and "Cicatriz ESP" stretch far beyond the bounds of post-hardcore. Bixler-Zavala pivoted from belting and screaming, instead employing his bracing, incisive and sweet tenor. Despite their alien, unpredictable and teeming natures, the tracks on De-Loused were more than ever, songs rather than sonic assaults.
De-Loused in the Comatorium also marked Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López's first capital-c concept record. It follows the protagonist, Cerpin Taxt — namechecked in the closer, "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" — through a phantasmagorical world after he overdoses on morphine and rat poison.
This narrative thread pulls along the listener from beginning to end — even if they may never know what a "boxcar cadaver," "carpal jets" or a "cartweel of scratches" is.
The story also had tragic and unintentional prescience: Ward died in 2003 — a month before De-Loused was released — of a heroin overdose. (Owens, too, passed — in 2014, from a heart attack while on tour with Jack White in Mexico.)
De-Loused was met with critical acclaim; Yahoo! Music declared it's "not an album to listen to casually. It insists on taking over your life for an hour, demands a level of concentration rare in rock, amply repays multiple plays."
Clearly, itss aesthetic, compositions and narrative showed that Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López had a lot to say post-At the Drive-In. Better yet, it was just the beginning of a potent new chapter for the artistic partners.
The manic ambition of 2005's Frances the Mute and 2006's Amputechture; the spiritistic meltdown of 2008's The Bedlam in Goliath, their turns toward accessibility with 2009's Octahedron, 2012's Noctourniquet, and 2022's self-titled reunion album — all of it was made possible by De-Loused in the Comatorium.
"Past present and future tense/ Clipside of the pinkeye fountain," Bixler-Zavala announced through his nasal midrange in the unforgettable "Inertiatic E.S.P."
And De-Loused in the Comatorium felt Janus-like in that regard — their past settled, their present known, their future deliciously strange and boundless.
Photo © Fat Bob
The Mars Volta Just Released Their First Album In A Decade. What Have They Been Up To During The Time Off?
The Mars Volta's decade-long hiatus found co-leaders Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez reuniting their other major band and duking it out in short-lived projects.
As it turns out, the Mars Volta's florid, labyrinthine journey — sidelong jams, Ouija-fueled nightmares, an 18-LP boxed set — was in the shape of a circle.
After 11 years together and a decade on hiatus, the progressive-rock duo just released a streamlined, self-titled record on Sept. 16 — no lysergic graphics on the cover, no five-movement suites with titles like "Plant a Nail in the Navel Stream." Eva Gardner, their original bassist from their debut EP Tremulant, is back.
Mellow, pared-down and Caribbean-influenced, The Mars Volta is by far the group's most accessible to date. But this doesn't contradict their MO one iota: the cardinal rule of the band has always been that it's whatever their co-leaders, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, want it to be.
So, the GRAMMY-winning band has opted to hit the reset button, and grow up before our eyes and ears — with Gardner, synthesist Marcel Rodríguez-López and drummer Willy Rodriguez Quiñones behind them.
"We've been warning you guys; we were saying 10 years ago that the most revolutionary thing we could do was make a pop record," Rodriguez-Lopez told The Quietus in 2022. "We're in our mid-to-late 40s, and you can't just still be doing the same s—, expecting to wear an old T-shirt that doesn't fit any more."
This belies the fact that the Mars Volta have been totally game to revisit the past — not only with that leviathan of a career-spanning boxed set, La Realidad de los Sueños, but in the brief 2010s reunion of At the Drive-In, their incindiary post-hardcore band that put them on the map in the first place.
But the reignition and subsequent flame-out of AtDI was just one development between Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala during our sadly Volta-less decade. Their recent story ranges from the tragic (an allegedly traumatizing run-in with the Church of Scientology, resulting in an ongoing legal firefight), to the boundlessly creative (Rodriguez-Lopez's waterfall of solo releases), to the bizarre and hilarious (Bixler-Zavala's, erm, interesting TMV reunion announcement.)
Now, The Mars Volta is out in the world, following well-received advance singles "Blacklight Shine," "Graveyard Love" and "Vigil." Here's a quick rundown on what the experimentalists have been up to during their wildest, wooliest band's downtime — focusing on the music rather than the personal drama.
At The Drive-In Rode Again
Although it seemed the Mars Volta had evolved several epochs past the slash-and-burn theatrics of At the Drive-In, they decided to revive the band in 2011, during the waning days of the Mars Volta's initial run.
While this resulted in a handful of festival gigs, AtDI fell apart upon the pair's falling-out in 2013. Out of their reconciliation via the band Antemasque — which featured bassist Flea and drummer Travis Barker at various stages — came another shot at a reunion, albeit with Sparta guitarist Keeley Davis replacing founding AtDI member Jim Ward.
This reunion produced 2017's in•ter a•li•a, their first album since 2000's unforgettable swing for the fences, Relationship of Command — but the album earned mixed reviews, At the Drive-In followed it up with an EP that year, Diamanté, before calling it quits once again.
Offshoot Bands Came And Went
When the Mars Volta first broke up, one sticking point for Bixler-Zavala was Rodriguez-Lopez's new band, Bosnian Rainbows — which featured vocalist Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes. (Fun fact: she's direct support for the reconstituted Mars Volta's 2022 fall tour.)
"Thank u 2 all VOLTA fans u deserved more especially after the way u rooted for us on <a href="https://www.spin.com/2012/03/mars-volta-noctourniquet-warner-bros/">2012's [Noctouriniquet]," Bixler-Zavala seethed on Twitter. "But Bosnian Rainbows was what we all got instead. I can't sit here and pretend any more. I no longer am a member of Mars Volta."
Bixler-Zavala simultaneously launched his own band, Zavalaz, featuring Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete among its ranks. And in 2014, the pair buried the hatchet to form Antemasque.
While none of these three bands publicly announced a breakup, none are currently active, and it remains to be seen whether they'll pop up again in the foreseeable future with the Mars Volta back in action.
Solo Records… So Many Solo Records
During the gulf of time when the Mars Volta were no longer active, Rodriguez-Lopez seemingly decided to duke it out with Jandek, Merzbow and Guided by Voices in prolificity: his Discogs page is truly staggering.
Are you a true fan if you haven't checked out Gorilla Preacher Cartel, or Killing Tingled Lifting Retreats, or Cell Phone Bikini? How about Chocolate Tumor Hormone Parade? (At least some of this epic streak were part of a 12-album series, released every fortnight in the latter half of 2016.)
Does this leave out some music the pair put out while the Mars Volta was on ice? Probably; these two have always been insatiable fountainheads of creativity, and it's almost guaranteed that will continue in the 2020s.
But after (or before) you seek all of it out, dive deep into The Mars Volta, where extraneous elements are stripped away — leaving a glowing core that may well be enticing to diehards and newcomers alike.
Red Hot Chili Peppers at 1993 GRAMMYs
GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Red Hot Chili Peppers Shout Out Little Richard & Mother Nature At The 1993 GRAMMYs
For the latest episode of GRAMMY Rewind, watch the quintessential Los Angeles rockers take home their first-ever golden gramophone for their classic 1991 track "Give It Away"
Back in 1993, legendary Los Angeles group the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought full-on California rock star energy to the GRAMMY stage when they accepted their first-ever golden gramophone. The band accepted the award (for Best Hard Rock Performance With Vocal for "Give It Away") mostly shirtless, with only Chad Smith donning a top.
Frontman Anthony Kiedis speaks on behalf of the quartet, rocking his long hair down, wearing just a floral skirt and name dropping Little Richard, Sinéad O'Connor Howard Stern and even Mother Nature. Watch the full, amazing acceptance speech below, which is the latest episode of our GRAMMY Rewind video series.
"I was hanging out, earlier today, at the men's club with Little Richard and Howard Stern; they both told me to say, 'Everybody, hi, how you doin'?' And they'd like to be here at the moment but they can't because they're off teaching Sinéad how to tango. But she says 'Hi,' too," Kiedis says, smiling and eliciting laughter from the audience.
He then dedicates their big win to a worthy cause: "The only person I'd really like to thank is Mother Nature, for giving this universe music, because without music I'd be nowhere."
The "Californication" rockers received two nominations at the 35th GRAMMY Awards that year, with their hit "Under The Bridge" earning a nod for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (U2 took home that win instead, for "Achtung Baby").
"Give It Away" was released in September 1991 as the lead single to their funky Rick Rubin-produced fifth studio album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which followed later that year. "Under The Bridge" was released as the LP's second single in March 1992, bringing their electric sound to the mainstream with a No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It was their first song to hit the top 10 on the all-genre chart, with "Give It Away" only entering the chart at No. 73 in 1992, after "Under The Bridge" brought their sound out in the open. The album was also a commercial hit, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
The album's title track later earned the band their fourth GRAMMY nod at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. Their first nomination came at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards, for their 1989 rocked-out cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."
The longstanding SoCal rock heroes have since taken home two more GRAMMY wins, at the 49th GRAMMY Awards in 2007. They won Best Rock Album for Stadium Arcadium and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal its lead single "Dani California."
Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Tibet House
Pathway To Paris Celebrates 50th Earth Day With Livestream Fest Featuring Patti Smith, Cat Power, Flea, Ben Harper, Michael Stipe & More
The one-night live special will air this Sun., April 26 at 4 p.m. EST on IGTV
Non-profit organization Pathway to Paris, which is "dedicated to turning the Paris [climate] Agreement into reality," will host its 50th Earth Day celebration with a virtual livestreamed festival. The event, "Pathway to Paris Earth Day 50: A Virtual Festival for Our Planet," will take place this Sun., April 26 at 4 p.m. EST on the organization's IGTV. They announced the news today, April 22, which is officially Earth Day.
Artists featured on the one-night livestream’s lineup include GRAMMY winners Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.), Ben Harper and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) and GRAMMY-nominated folk icon Patti Smith. Others set to appear throughout the night’s programming include pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes, musician/actor Rain Phoenix, soulful singer/songwriter Cat Power and more.
All proceeds raised during the event will support Pathway to Paris’ efforts in advocating for international environmental reform and fighting climate change.
In a statement regarding current world events, the state of our climate and the upcoming event, festival organizers wrote, “As humanity faces an unknown future, we must recognize the fact that we simply cannot go back to our behavior from before. Both as individuals and as a globe, we are in a time of reflection, and now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to make great change.”
They continued, “We believe this is truly the moment to seize the opportunity to transition our world fully to 100% renewable energy, and out of the era of fossil fuels… Just as we have the power to cause problems, we have the same power to heal them. We can reimagine our world, and we are asking you to join us.”
The full lineup is listed in the Instagram post shared above.
Additional information on Pathway to Paris and their initiatives for climate change is available at pathwaytoparis.com. For more information on how you can directly contribute to the wellbeing of artists and the wider music industry during this unprecedented time, visit the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund here.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Photo: Jonathan Leibson/FilmMagic
Red Hot Chili Peppers To Stream Show Live From The Egyptian Pyramids
The March 15 concert will stream on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
On March 8 the Red Hot Chili Peppers announced that their March 15 concert in Egypt, "live at the pyramids," will be streamed worldwide on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Bass player Flea said he usually gets a tingle of excitement before visiting new places but now his "heart is abuzz with joy at the prospect."
The Los Angeles Times interviewed music fans in Egypt who were delighted to have such a top-tier rock band visit their historic venue at Giza. "I hope this concert goes well so as to pave the way for other big names to visit and put Egypt on the radar," said one local fan.
The logistics of the venue are somewhat daunting, including strict security. Concert organizer, Nacelle Founder/CEO Tito Kachab said, "We're also pretty much working in the desert even though the city is very close."
Anyone who enjoyed the Red Hot Chili Peppers' live performance on Feb. 10 at the 61st GRAMMY Awards with Post Malone is likely to be abuzz themselves to catch this event online. Because of the time difference with Egypt, on Friday March 15 the live streamcast will begin at 2:00 p.m. on the east coast and at 11:00 a.m. on the west coast.