The Mars Volta: The Bedlam In Goliath

'Could’ve happened to anyone, really'...

Could’ve happened to anyone, really. You buy a Ouija board in a curiosity shop in Jerusalem to mess around with on the tourbus. You start talking to it. It talks back. It soon transpires that said Ouija board contains the spirit of a malevolent saint named Goliath who wants to use you as a conduit to the real world. You politely decline. So the board drives your engineer mad, floods your studio, destroys your equipment and gimps your frontman’s foot to the extent that he has to learn to walk again. What to do? You bury the board in a mystery location and swear never to reveal its whereabouts to anyone. Then, if you’re The Mars Volta, you make a brilliant, baffling, headlong hellride into the metaphysical, murderous unknown. Like, duh.

‘Aberinkula’, all howling falsettos and apocalyptic skin-beating – kudos to new drummer Thomas Pridgen, who knocks the living shit out of everything on this record – is the ear-bleeding birth of TBIG, but it’s not all as unfathomable as you might expect; the creepy and unsettling ‘Ilyena’ even veers close to electropop danceability.

This being The Mars Volta, however, you’d feel cheated if it was that easy. There are no 30-minute prog suites to bend your brain around but ‘The Bedlam…’ still requires a degree of patience that The Pigeon Detectives’ second album probably won’t. ‘Goliath’, for example, begins life as a juggernaut of bass riffage that’ll elicit a million appreciative “Duuuuuuuuude”s before morphing into a disorientating dive down the rabbit-hole that escalates uncontrollably before hitting a brick wall. You’ll feel like you’ve been fucked by a train and, eventually, you’ll look upon that as a good thing. By the same token, ‘Soothsayer’ is likely to befuddle rather than beguile at first, but its lulling, faux-Balkan tones are a perfect match with the morbid necromancy of

the lyrical content.

‘Askepios’, clocking in at a relatively puny 5.13, nevertheless delivers the album’s most grandiose moment: an impossibly epic riff played on, of all things, a church organ that sounds like Goliath himself clawing his way into your brain through your earphones before stuttering his way through an interlude of mobile static into the fearsome, juddering demand of “Help me come alive!”. You might well worry you unknowingly have.

‘The Bedlam In Goliath’ has its unnecessary extravagances but it’s still a grand catharsis from the forces of evil. Or, for those unwilling to allow a little imagination into their lives, just a really fucking good record.

Barry Nicolson