The Mars Volta's De-Loused in The Comatorium is Essential Listening: Here's Why
The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
June 24th saw the entirely unheralded ten-year anniversary of modern prog-rock landmark De-Loused In The Comatorium, the debut album of recently defunct The Mars Volta. Given that the critical response to its appearance back in 2003 was so incredibly varied (although it currently holds a Metacritic score of 82/100, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone were deeply unimpressed), I think it's time for a quick look back and a quick snapshot of the present, and a re-assessment of what this album meant.
Unlike its sprawling and unkempt successors, the Rick Rubin produced breakout from two former members of hardcore legends At The Drive-In was tight and compelling in a way Omar Rodriguez-Lopez wouldn't manage to recreate until the penultimate TMV album, Octahedron. There are, this being The Mars Volta, still incredibly lengthy periods where nothing particularly interesting happens - see the intro and outro to surprise music video channel hit "Televators," or the desolate middle section of the otherwise blazing desert rock of "Cicatriz ESP."
Nevertheless, it's fair to say that few people in recent memory have dissolved a beloved band at the height of their fame and immediately come out all guns blazing with a new band in the way Omar and Cedric did with De-Loused. The weight placed behind the idea that the listener finds a sheer guitar freak-out compelling, and the rejection of the notion of structure implicit in the album, represented not only a departure from the three-minute post-punk of ATD-I, but a total rejection of the values of that band.
Nevertheless, The Mars Volta went on to become something a joke in the rock community, a byword for prog excess and guitar onanism. As compelling as their debut was (and, to show my hand, it remains one of my firm favorites of the last ten years, an album in which I still find new things to admire from every repeat listen), the follow-ups, with Omar as sole producer, were so un-focused as to be unlistenable in places. Witness the bizarre Frances The Mute, which contained a song isolated inside seven minutes of silence punctuated only by the odd bird call, or the poorly received Amputechture, which I think I only dislike because I'm still trying to learn to play "Tetragrammaton" on the guitar.