There was a time shortly after this record came out that I thought The Mars Volta were going to be the biggest band in alternative music. The world, even.
Released in 2003, De-Loused in the Comatorium was – is – a monument. It was a smash hit in the relative sense of the world, going on to sell half a million copies (I know, right?), and garnering a cult following for the group in the process.
This was, of course, in the wake of At the Drive-In’s break-up – painful as it was. I was barely a teenager at the time that it happened, but it struck me in one of those sideways, “Well, that really sucks” kind of moments because I, as a new-ish fan of the band, couldn’t digest or know fully to what extent it meant. Plus I was, yanno, a baby.
Just over a year later, The Mars Volta were born and released the Tremulant EP. In the pre-YouTube days, I LimeWired (till I die…mwired, I dunno, still working on that one) extremely low bit-rate versions of the songs (We’re talking like sub-128s here, I mean c’mon) and played them till their digital hearts burnt out.
Then, shortly before De-Loused was released, their ‘sound manipulator’ (a position more important than you may think at first glance, being that they were a prog rock-influenced group) Jeremy Ward died of a drug overdose.
To me, that was the turning point for the group. From what I understand, De-Loused was finished and in its final stages of being prepped for release. Frances the Mute, what would be the 2005 follow-up to that album, was still just a burgeoning seedling. After Ward’s death, the original Voltas, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, got clean and sober. From a health, wellness and humanity standpoint, this was the best news possible.
Did getting sober affect the group’s relationship? Did getting clean change the narrative tone of what Mars Volta had set out to create? I can only speculate on either when I say that of course I think changed the group’s sound thereafter. But I’ll take two fellow human beings getting sober over a catalogue of albums that began a steady decline post-De-Loused.
De-Loused is an institution. In a rapidly shifting music marketplace, it was okay again to have 13-minute epics. It was okay that even the radio cut of “Drunkship of Lanterns” was, like, 5 minutes long. It was okay that, until “Wax Simulcra” in 2008, the band couldn’t release a single that wasn’t somehow heavily doctored from the original version.
Smack in the middle of its two poles – prog-rock and whatever weird planet for which this serves as normalcy – is one of the best albums of 2003. It is not, in fact, an easy listen by any means. But it’s the record for which The Mars Volta will be remembered, and it’s a damn fine one at that.
From De-Loused in the Comatorium, this is “This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed” –
Standout tracks: “Drunkship of Lanterns” and “Eria Tarka”
Weakest track: Never was the biggest fan of “Televators”
RIYL: Undiscovered galaxies.