The Mars Volta’s 2008 album, Bedlam in Goliath, is the band’s turning point. Up to this point in their discography, the band had released three solid jams: De-Loused in the Comatorium, Frances the Mute, and Amputechture. Save for just a couple duds here and there, every song up to that point had been truly listenable.
Call it a newly discovered chink in their armor, but beginning with Bedlam, things just haven’t been the same in the Volta camp. There are glaring but “hard to put your finger on it” weaknesses that I did not at all expect to find. Was it related to the revolving door of members? Something about the vision of the band seemed to shift in a way that ended up alienating many fans.
The album opens quite well: “Aberinkula” rings out with vocals and distorted guitars and segues to rumbling passages in its middle. At 6 minutes long, it’s a mammoth song out of the gate – but falls short of “Metatron” at 8+ minutes. “Ilyena” is skippable, and then Volta rips off what I feel is their best song.
“Wax Simulcra” is the most explosive yet succinct song in their discography, and I feel it to be worthy of the band’s “radio identity” of sorts. Sure, there are compressed versions of “Intertiatic ESP” and “The Widow” and if I recall correctly, a heavily-edited version of “L’Via L’Viaquez.”
But “Wax Simulcra” is a 2 minute, 39 second blast. Sub-3 minutes Volta songs are a wisp, a mere thought next to Grandpappy “Day of the Baphomets.” But as a singular consumable, it has to be their signature tune. Period, point blank. It and “Goliath” back-to-back make up for the two best songs on Bedlam.
The problem is that for as good as this record is with all the tracks I’ve just listed and the tunes “Agadez” and “Ouroborous” – man, it mails in some stinkers.
Up until pretty much all of Octahedon, I felt with great strength that “Tourniquet Man” was the saddest TMV song ever released. Time hasn’t changed my mind, and that song still has improper stank.
“Soothsayer” and the closer “Conjugal Burns” don’t do aaaaanything for me. Seeing how good one half of Bedlam stands up against its cruel, parasitic troll attachment is painful. In the span of the story (which is too confusing to summarize here – just read about it in long form here), maybe they make sense as a background track for that portion of the tale – but dropping in and out of this album doesn’t serve a purpose. Makes me think that Bedlam might have been better suited as an EP.
Perhaps this severe disparity between song cohesion and quality can be explained by where it was recorded. If the stories are true that the studio where Bedlam was born is haunted, maybe I’d buy that. Even if they’re not true, I can’t explain why 50% of the album is a pass.
Tl;dr version – when Bedlam is good, it’s real good. When it’s not, it’s downright unfortunate, and points a long and knotted, ET-esque finger toward more weak releases.
From 2008, this is the Mars Volta’s best single, “Wax Simulcra” –
Standout tracks: “Aberinkula” and “Wax Simulcra” and “Goliath” and “Agadez” and “Ouroborous”
Weakest track: “Askepios” and “Tourniquet Man” and “Soothsayer” and “Conjugal Burns” – oof.
RIYL: Latin- and jazz-infused bombasts with some sprawling prog-rock jams.