Bands reunite for all sorts of reasons, but At The Drive In’s has never really been clear. Their much-ballyhooed Coachella comeback in 2012 was bloodless enough to be upstaged by a Tupac hologram, but even before that, lead guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López had likened the reformed ATDI to “an old T-shirt that doesn’t fit me anymore”. Four years of infighting and inactivity later, and for reasons as arcane and inscrutable as one of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics, they announced they’d be recording a new album – but without Jim Ward, who’s been replaced by his Sparta bandmate Keeley Davis. This station is now operational, but history suggests it may not take much to blow up in everyone’s faces.
In spite of all that, the big surprise of ‘in•ter a•li•a’ is not the fact of its existence, but how seamlessly it picks up where 2000’s ‘Relationship Of Command’ left off. Lead single ‘Governed By Contagions’ finds ATDI at their splenetic, take-no-prisoners best, an omnidirectional explosion of sound and fury that feels like 17 months, not 17 years, has gone by. The same could be said of ‘Holtzclaw’, on which an increasingly manic Bixler-Zavala sounds like he might leap through the speakers and smash up your living room unless you “put the snakes back in the bag!” Forget any suggestion that their hearts aren’t in this; ‘in•ter a•li•a’ is the opposite of being phoned in.
Likewise, anyone concerned that Ward’s absence might result in Rodríguez-López’s proggier, Mars Volta-esque impulses going unchecked can rest easy. Aside from the gothic industrial churn of ‘Ghost-Tape No. 9’, everything here is as visceral and immediate as a leg-break, even when the subject matter goes to dark places. Perhaps most significantly, ‘in•ter a•li•a’ feels like an ATDI album, which is no small achievement – just ask The Stone Roses, who’ve thus far struggled to rediscover their mojo after a similarlength of time away. All of a sudden, At The Drive In’s reason for being has become thrillingly self-evident: they’re back to finish what they started.