I don’t know about you, but growing up a black-clad rock kid, there were very few things that scared me on the airwaves. We used to request System Of A Down at parties to piss off the baggy pants-wearing, popular R&B kids, we heckled the DJ to play Limp Bizkit at barmitzvahs (it was 2001, ok?) and the first time I blew my Dad’s credit card was to join the Linkin Park fan club at age 14, not knowing that it would take us until well after puberty to get out of it. But aside from nearly being killed in a Metallica moshpit and walking into a Slipknot performance by mistake, we were was totally au fait with the loud and angry. But let me tell you the last time I remember being properly scared; hearing the relentless, meticulous mess of At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command at my friend’s house in the summer of 2000. And I was really, really scared. It was an indescribably wonderful feeling.
The guys from the recently reformed At The Drive-In don’t look like the kind of people who could induce quaking and shaking in punk-ass kids. More like extras in a Robert Rodriquez film than subjects of a hard rock documentary, they somehow managed to completely sideline image and go straight for the ears with such speed and ingenuity that by the time most people (including yours truly) figured out how great they actually were, they’d imploded. Three albums in four years -the last of which would become a critical favourite – and they were out the door, blossoming into even weirder, more bliss-inducing and head-expanding side projects including Jim Ward, Sparta and of course, the mighty and preposterous Mars Volta. Much of the DNA of that last band can be found in ‘Sleepwalk Capsules’, primarily because it was the group that vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, he of the seemingly million octaves and octanes, chose to found post his original post-hardcore group. But while there’s snatches of moments that you can grab onto in Mars Volta’s music, the real appeal lies in the fact that ATDI songs can be headbanged and even sung along to from start to finish. Even with all the strange guitar voicings, yelping melodies and rapid section changes, they were still a band’s band.
Yes, ‘Sleepwalk Capsules’ is abrasive and probably not the first thing you’d choose to play on a sleepy Sunday morning but that doesn’t detract in any way from its importance. Tied into the ranting and raving and lyrics that could not possibly be echoed by anyone other than diehard fans – of which there are many – is a combustible, irresistable energy that is the reason Rage Against The Machine hand picked them as their support in the twilight of both of their careers. You can hear it bursting through the cracks of the monstrous overdriven guitars, the not-exactly-in-tune hollering of Bixler and Ward and the surprising wah-wah funk turn of the final bridge. You can feel it as much in what they polish as in what they leave dirty, in the finely honed cymbal sounds juxtaposed with seemingly endless overlaid lead guitar parts that scream for attention and layer the chords until they’re something so dense that even jazz cats would have trouble figuring out what they were. This is the legacy of At The Drive-In, back on the scene for the cash or the music or whatever else it is. But let me tell you, I’ll be the one sweating and flailing about in the front row.
At The Drive-In – ‘Sleepwalk Capsules’