They may not be a new band as such, but after 16 years away the re-emergence of Texas’ At The Drive In almost feels like discovering a new band.
Having been away for so long, there’s more than likely rock lovers out there who aren’t aware of how great this band was back in their heyday, which ultimately culminated in 2000 album Relationship of Command. But this was one of those formative bands that shaped my love of all things rock and punk, with their trademark post-hardcore meets punk sound.
After the band split in 2001 you’ll likely have heard of the follow-up project The Mars Volta, which was launched by vocalist Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and split in 2012. The band then reunited briefly for a handful of festival appearances that year, before differences in opinion struck again until another reform last year. New music and a world tour was announced, only for guitarist Jim Ward to quit days before the tour. He was replaced by Sparta guitarist Keeley Davies, and the scene was set for this week’s release of in•ter a•li•a – which means Among Other Things in Latin.
Speaking of the band’s hiatus “After all this time, At The Drive In still means brotherhood, that gang mentality, and now more than ever, it means family,” Tony leaves off. “.” – Rick
The new album, which is out on Friday (5 May), appears to have reignited the band’s creative brilliance, with drummer Tony Hajjar claiming “It’s the most fun I’ve had in years.” He continued: “Because we have our own families, we’re older and wiser and we understand each other a lot more. Recently, Cedric texted me ‘We conquered a fucking mountain.’ That really resonated with me. I just wrote back in all caps ‘A FUCKING MOUNTAIN.’ It’s so true. It took a lot of tears, stories, hugs and hard work to make this record. We were only able to accomplish it because we have the utmost respect for each other’s talents. We’re here.”
With that in mind, for anyone that hasn’t yet experienced the At The Drive In sound, you’re in for a treat.
In•ter a•li•a begins with the excellent No Wolf Like The Present, which opens up with reverby noise then explodes into life with a fast-paced riff then Bixler’s trademark vocals enter the proceedings. In true ATDI style it’s a breakneck speed re-introduction to the band, with wild guitars and some huge riffs throughout.
Synthy bursts and a bit of reverb lead us into Continuum, then Bixler comes in with some waily vocals followed by spoken vocals over the top of some high-pitched guitar bursts and rolling riffs. Heavier vocals kick in, with driving drums followed by a meandering guitar lick with repeated guitar riff over more spoken vocals. There’s a brief pause, before diving back into the fast-paced, frenetic chorus.
Fourth track Governed By Contagions kicks off with a heavy guitar riff, a cool linking riff into an energetic opening verse that ends with big melodic cries of “Brace yourself my darling, brace yourself my love.” A wild mass of guitar noise follows leading into more frantic vocals, and the frenetic guitars continue throughout. Check it out for yourself in the video below:
The wonderfully named Pendulum in a Peasant Dress is slightly more melodic, despite starting off with a slightly trippy effects laden guitar intro and wild vocals. But these give way to clean vocals through the chorus that gradually become more intense, with the highlight being the wild supporting guitars throughout.
The high point on the album is potentially Call Broken Arrow, which kicks off with a frenzied guitar intro then big booming vocals alongside heavier guitars and wild guitar noise as the track intensifies. A melodic chorus follows, supported by bursts of guitar and a meandering guitar riff then dives into a big rock-out.
Holtzclaw kicks off with more wild guitars that deviate all over the place as Bixler waxes lyrical seemingly oblivious to the wild goings-on behind him. A slight lull follows, then launches into repeats of “nothing’s gonna stop us, nothing’s gonna stop us now” then a big heavy rock-out to bring the track to a close.
Penultimate track Ghost Tape No. 9 is an unfamiliarly pause for thought, with Bixler’s high-pitched vocals supported by dark, moody guitar and heavy bass. Fast-paced guitar riffs follow, then a return to the lingering verse in what is an interesting deviation from the fast-paced route we become accustomed to.
The album signs off with Hostage Stamps, which opens up with some synthy sounds that are smashed wide open by a blistering guitar riff that’s swiftly followed by an equally fast-paced opening verse. A big shouty chorus follows, with call-and-answer sections between vocals and guitars, then a smash of screechy guitars leads us into more shouty vocals. It’s a heavy rocky track that’ll no doubt delight moshpits up and down the country, and offers a fitting end to an excellent returning album.
Speaking of their return to the studio after so many years, Bixler said: “It was about getting back to that primordial self. We essentially agreed ‘We need to honour the last record. We need to go forward, be the fucking core of what we are, and ignore everything we learned in our years apart.’ It was a great lesson in communication. We wanted to honour the fan base and the frame of mind of being young. Most of us have children. It’s very easy for me to access that wonder where there really shouldn’t be any rules.”
I’ve read some negativity around this album out there, but for me it’s unwarranted. This album harnesses the wonderful At The Drive In sound that I loved as a 16/17-year-old just getting into rock and metal, and it’s a pretty good effort for a band that’s not been around since 2001. Moreover, it’s fantastic to have the wonderful screechy guitars and trademark Bixler vocals back.
In•ter a•li•a is out on Friday (5 May), and you can pre-order it here.