The comeback we all needed & wanted.
Some people believe that reviews of albums, movies, games and any number of other topics, should only touch upon the actual subject and that no other piece of art - whether from the artist in question or the work of another - should be included in said review. To those dullards, I say, "These days, nothing exists in a vacuum, but best of luck in your poor cognitive endeavour." I mention this because one cannot discuss 'In • ter a • li • a', the long-awaited fourth album from At The Drive In and their first album in 17 years, without comparing and discussing this new record to its legendary predecessor; the seminal 'Relationship Of Command'.
Like countless others, 2000's 'Relationship Of Command' is an all-time personal favourite record. It's a record that I love dearly; one whose songs I know every single lyric to; one that I know structurally front to back and side to side; and one that I've listened to countless times since my ears first discovered it in 2011. Yet upon the announcement of this new album's existence, and even just mere seconds before sitting down to fully hear and ingest 'In • ter a • li • a', I was quite sceptical about it.
For how could this record live up to the sheer legacy that was endowed by eager critics, loyal fans, now famous live and T.V. performances, hall of fame mentions and glowing retrospective reviews of 'Relationship Of Command'? How could this new release defy expectations from listeners the world over? How could it ever surpass my own lofty expectations set by years of internal hype?
In beating around the bush no longer, 'In • ter a • li • a', Latin for "among other things" (hinting at its thematic variation) - isn't as good as it's predecessor. Plain and simple. Though, very few things are as good as that album in this stranger-than-fiction world. So while 'Relationship Of Command' still remains the peak of At The Drive In's work as a collective, the chaotic rock approach of 'In • ter a • li • a' comes pretty damned close. Because whether or not you view this release by it’s lonesome self or in succession to that now classic record, this 11-track LP is still an immensely consistent, solid listen!
[caption id="attachment_1091915" align="aligncenter" width="760"] At The Drive In, post-hyphen era.[/caption]
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In the years following At The Drive In’s breakup, we saw various projects spring from the member's creative minds. There's the more recent alternative/rock sounds of Antemasque and the textured, experimental nature of - let's face it - the far more musically complex The Mars Volta; both courtesy of guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. We also had Sparta from now ex-guitarist Jim Ward and drummer Tony Hajjar. (Filling Ward’s shoes here is actually Sparta’s other guitarist, Keeley Davis. Their Christmas party may be quite awkward this year, me thinks). Then, further away from the six degrees of ATDI is Hajjar’s other work in alt-rock supergroup, Gone Is Gone. However, fret not, ye purists! For this album is in sound, tone, aesthetic and name, pure, unadulterated At The Drive In; acting as if they never even left us.
As gathered from the record's first two singles - the banger of 'Governed By Contagions' and the powerful yet disconcerting 'Incurably Innocent' - this really is At The Drive In just for the year of our lord 2017. The aggressive, energetic opening duo of ‘No Wolf Like The Present’ and ‘Continuum’ only reinforce this fact. And that’s exactly why I adore this record; it’s At The Drive In making the record they more than likely would have made directly following ‘Relationship…’. It just took a long fucking time to get here, is all!
Now, one of the most captivating elements of their previous effort was the rabid shouts, accent-bending inflections, and brisk vocal phrasing of Bixler-Zavala. Once again, the eccentric vocalist leads the band's sonic charge with his commanding vocals delivering vivid, surreal lyrics that summon up images and tales of political, moral and societal dissension and his disgust for such modern ills. It's going to be damned good fun to muse over Bixler-Zavala's lyrics and work just what the actual fuck he's on about too.
Another returning aspect that received high praise in the past is the engaging guitar work and solid interplay between Rodriguez and Ward. While Ward’s out of the band now, the angular guitar riffs, dissonant licks, and phase-y guitar squeals from solo album addict Rodriguez and Davis here upholds their strong guitar output. Plus, the busy but fitting and tight drumming from Hajjar, coupled with the truly driving sense of these song's pacing and expert instrumentation makes this the At The Drive In that many love and remember. The very kind that many hoped would one day rise again.
Actual musical performances and songwriting aside, the production and mix here are obviously much cleaner than what came before in the El Paso outfits discography. Which makes the album's highlights that much more potent; standouts like the personalised and emotional ‘Tilting At The Univendor’, the unnerving yet cryptic nature of ‘Call Broken Arrow’, the slower, darker, brooding late game entry ‘Ghost Tape No. 9’, or the album’s closing bleak, dystopian-themed rager, ‘Hostage Stamps’.
To be blunt, there is not a bad song to be found here. Yet there also isn't a song that can match the dire, other-worldly urgency of 'Cosmonaut'; no song here is as haunting or as starkly contrasting as 'Invalid Litter Dept.' and there’s nothing on 'in • ter a • li • a' that could dethrone 'One Armed Scissor' as their most impactful, definitive composition to date. Yet definitely not for a lack of effort or want of trying, as At The Drive In's comeback record continues but also maintains their legacy as one of the most significant bands of our time.
A lot has happened to At The Drive in since 2000. It's now been 17 years on from their widely lauded third record, they've rejected their ‘post-hardcore’ genre tag, they've removed the hyphen from their moniker (my autocorrect hated this review), and there's no Jim Ward in sight. Yet, even so, we now have what many thought would never, ever happen; a new At The Drive In album in this decade. And guess what? 'In • ter a • li • a' is fuckin' great! This album is everything that I personally wanted from a new At The Drive In record post-reunion, and I will be forever thankful for that.
1. No Wolf Like The Present
3. Tilting At The Univendor
4. Governed By Contagions
5. Pendulum In A Peasant Dress
6. Incurably Innocent
7. Call Broken Arrow
9. Torrentially Cutshaw
10. Ghost-Tape No. 9
11. Hostage Stamps
‘In • ter a • li • a’ is out now via Rise Records & Cooking Vinyl Australia. Purchase it here.