In April of this year, founding members of At The Drive In and the creative force behind The Mars Volta Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar Rodriguez Lopez, announced that they were making music together again. This time the band was called “Antemasque”, and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea (who also played on the first TMV album “Deloused in the Comatorium”) was also along for the ride. This was really good news to the fans of the musical duo, as only months earlier it appeared that they had had a huge falling out, and would not be working together ever again.
The Break Up
When Cedric Bixler Zavala announced the break up of The Mars Volta via twitter last year it came as a shock to the band’s fans. However, it wasn’t the fact that The Mars Volta were disbanding that was totally surprising. Rather, it was the implication in Bixer Zavala’s lengthy series of tweets that the friendship and creative partnership between himself and guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez —a partnership that had been the nucleus of many bands and projects of varying degrees of recognition and success—had run its course.
At the time, Bixler Zavala explained that he had wanted to tour the last The Mars Volta album “Noctourniquet” but Rodriguez Lopez did not. He was also dismissive of the new Rodriguez Lopez outfit “Bosnian Rainbows”, and tweeted “I tried my hardest to keep it going, but Bosnian Rainbows was all we got instead. I can’t sit here and pretend anymore. I am no longer a member of The Mars Volta (…) What am I supposed to do? Be some progressive housewife that’s cool with watching their partner go fuck other bands?”
Fans were left to speculate as to if there were other reasons behind the sudden and unexpected break up of not just a band, but a creative relationship that seemed to be able to always roll with the punches and reinvent itself. After all, Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez broke up their post hardcore outfit “At the Drive In” in 2000 after the band had released their best record “Relationship of Command” and were at the pinnacle of their success.
Whereas the other members of ATDI formed the decidedly much more straightforward rock group Sparta, Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez formed the ambitious TMV, and incorporated frenetic Fela Kuti inspired afro funk and Latin influences into their progressive rock mix. Truth be told, Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez had always had a penchant for genre hopping, and during the years that ATDI was active they also played experimental dub music in the often overlooked group “Defacto” that saw the talented multi-instrumentalist Bixler Zavala get behind the drum kit, and Rodriguez Lopez pick up the bass. Defacto was often joined on stage by guitar genius John Fruciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame.
So fans of the two —who in addition to being musical co-conspirators really did seem (in interviews) to be best friends— were stunned when Bixler Zavala made his announcement. Now, however, these fans have reason to be relieved, as only a year has passed and the two have worked out whatever it was that was getting in the way of their collaborating together.
The new band is rounded out by drummer Dave Elitch (The Mars Volta, Daughters of Mara, and metal super group Killer be Killed) and Flea plays bass on the record (although he has stated that he is not a permanent member).
Here’s a track by track breakdown of the new album:
The spinoff track was the first track listeners got to hear from Antemasque back in April when the news broke that the duo were working together again. The song is a mid tempo punk rocker with an urgent and tense feel.
I Got No Remorse
This song rushes out of the gate with a bombastic riff and crashing symbols. Right away, one thing is obvious about the band’s sound— whereas Rodriguez Lopez had an enormous array of effects pedals during his TMV tenure, in Antemasque it’s clearly all about old school overdriven mid-range amp distortion.
Ride Like The Devil’s Son
With it’s meandering guitar line and choppy rhythm, this post hardcore jam would have fit in nicely on the 1998 At The Drive In album “In/Casino/Out”. The dry and sun bleached lyrics which talk about “wandering in circles”, “jack straw cows”, and “vultures flying overhead” seem fitting as Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez grew up in El Paso, Texas.
Hanging In the Lurch
The fourth cut on the album has a definite “entertainment” era Gang of Four vibe. Lyrically, Bixler Zavala has always been fond of allusions to surveillance, forensics, and crime, and in this song he passionately pleads for “some kind of evidence” in the chorus.
Easily one of the best songs on the album. It starts off with a careening descending punk rock guitar riff that brings to mind Greg Sage and the Wipers. From there, it morphs into a sophisticated stadium rocker with catchy and cool chord changes, and Bixler Zavala managing to channel 70s era Stevie Nicks (for real). This is the kind of power pop that isn’t around enough anymore. It’s the kind that Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy used to make. For long time fans, it also shows a side of Cedric and Omar’s creative output that hasn’t been seen before.
At this point in the album it’s clear what Antemasque is all about sound wise; poppy post punk with a simple sound palette, great hooks, and propulsive rhythms that although a little bit sideways, are definitely toe tapping. Like a grown up At The Drive In.
Drown All Your Witches
For this one, Rodriguez Lopez breaks out an acoustic guitar.
For those of you who’ve been playing along so far, you’ll have noticed that there’s a Red Hot Chili Peppers connection to the Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar Rodriguez Lopez projects. This is worth mentioning because “Drown All Your Witches” sounds a lot like the 90s RCHP classic “Breaking the Girl”.
The spooky melody here will easily lodge itself in your head for days.
Imagine the early, more atmospheric 80s version of U2 with its clanging, delay drenched guitars colliding with the energy of the Dead Kennedys. High energy and up tempo verses that bring to mind the Kennedy’s “too drunk to fuck” break down into half time choruses and bridges with captivating and haunting vocals.
Rome Armed To Teeth
The album’s closer sees an organ make its way into the mix. This is quite noticeable given that the rest of the album has a no frills punk rock sound that’s stripped down to the bare essentials. This is definitely a departure from The Mars Volta, in which keyboards, electronic elements, horns, hand percussion and many other elements were often used to create densely layered productions.
The debut album from “Antemasque” will surely please the fans of its main creators’ previous bands. It has a sound and feel to it that is familiar, and yet it is entirely new. It’s probably closer to At The Drive In then any of their other past musical endeavors, but it isn’t fair to call it ATDI part two. It certainly isn’t The Mars Volta. Hopefully, Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar Rodriguez Lopez will continue to make music together for years to come, whatever the band name and the musical direction may be.