Album Review: Antemasque – Antemasque

The rock and roll history books are littered with great partnerships. Jagger and Richards, Gilmour and Waters, John and Taupin, Morrissey and Marr; the list goes on and on. One which might not spring to mind right away is that of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala; like some of the aforementioned, theirs has been a turbulent but extremely fruitful alliance, producing one of the most acclaimed and influential post-hardcore records with ‘Relationship of Command’ in their days with At The Drive-In, and making mercurial magic with The Mars Volta for the best part of the last decade, their jazz-fusion space-prog stupefying and frustrating in equal measure. Since the Mars Volta’s public and rather messy split in January 2013 and the, um, “mixed” feedback the ATD-I reunion shows recieved, many thought the two would never work together again, but they make a grand return with new project Antemasque, releasing their debut record after only forming earlier this year. It’s quite clear this pairing have a frenetic working pace when creating, but does that translate to good music?

It’s certainly the most “normal” thing the two have produced in years; while the albums toward the tail end of The Mars Volta weren’t quite as “out there” as the earlier efforts, this finds them at their most accessible – if anything, this has more in common with the other band that emerged from the ATD-I split, Sparta. Rodriguez-Lopez has one of the most furiously creative and inventive minds of any modern musician, always with his mind on the next idea or project, and following this and last year’s icy electropop sojourn with Bosnian Rainbows, it appears he is back on the plane of us mere mortals, going back to his roots of creating tightly-wound post-hardcore jams. For those that grew quickly tired of The Mars Volta’s “dicking about”, this will be the best thing Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala have done in years; while OR-L is still enamoured of the odd guitar effect, this is wholly straightforward stuff and will go some way to reclaiming some credos as reliable songwriters rather than wild & wide-eyed hippies susceptible to 33-minute wig-outs.

While the first half of the record is pacey and pulsating, songs are interchangeable – if you had ever wondered what ATD-I would sound like if they hadn’t fallen apart after ‘RoC’, tracks like ‘4AM’, ‘I Got No Remorse’ and ‘Memento Mori’ are probably your closest equivalent, other than Bixler-Zavala’s surprisingly low vocal register on ‘Antemasque’ – the wails aren’t gone completely, but there’s a deeper snarl to CB-Z’s tone that started to come to the fore in the latter days of The Mars Volta. There’s enough to the wiry groove of the initiative stages of the album to ensure this would probably be a highly enjoyable experience in the live arena, but it’s when ‘Drown All Your Witches’ starts to experiment that this eponymous record becomes interesting. Its bluesy Latin shuffle flows into ‘Providence’, a personal album highlight, the ominous bassline setting the tone for a journey into darker territories. Perhaps it makes me a glutton for punishment to yearn for their experimental side to be unleashed as it can lead to some of the more self-indulgent material of The Mars Volta, but when TMV truly hit their stride they were magnificent, a high that is only replicated by Antemasque on the fantastic ‘Providence’.

The wonderful weirdness continues with ‘People Forget’, before ‘Rome Armed To The Teeth’ sees us out by revisiting high-octane punk rock seen in earlier realms of the self-titled album. Given OR-L’s propensity to drop projects as soon as he becomes restless, this should be treasured as what will be seen by many as a return to form; at least, a more trustworthy and reliable experience than previous outfits. This will be an effort that will please fans from all encampments of Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez’s fanbase, from fervent ATD-I fans to followers of their dazzling experimentalism, albeit perhaps not one that sticks as long in the memory as moments of the aforementioned have. What the future holds for these two is anyone’s guess, but for now this is a solid entry into the partnership’s canon, an encouraging thing given their recent history. Look at that, I managed to get through the entire review without mentioning that that jeb-end from Red Hot Chili Peppers plays bass on this album. Oh for fu-


‘Antemasque’ by Antemasque is out now on Nadie Sounds.

Antemasque links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)


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