As far out as its moniker, the Mars Volta says Yes to nearly every prog-rock pretension. Guitars replicate Santana's fretboard acrobatics one moment, whale calls the next. Congas, marimbas, and ominous electronics add color and claustrophobia to the band's dense, impenetrable sound. Frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala's opaque lyrics are as puzzling as a Rubik's Cube, topped off with song titles such as "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt." Taken together, it all forms one of the most breathtaking debuts in recent memory: The band's recently released premiere full-length, De-loused in the Comatorium, is post-punk at its most beautiful and ambitious.
Formed from the remnants of El Paso, Texas firebrands At the Drive-In, Mars Volta sprang from the untimely demise of one of rock's most promising acts. Since then, tragedy has continued to envelop the band. Its effects manipulator, Jeremy Ward, died from a drug overdose in May. Moreover, Comatorium is a concept album inspired by the life and times of artist Julio Venegas, a friend of the band who also died of a drug overdose, in 1996. After all this latest death, though, the Mars Volta has responded by breathing new life into rock and roll.