At The Drive-In - ‘in·ter a·li·a’ (Rise Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Jonni D   
Thursday, 18 May 2017 04:30

ATDI artworkTo say the reality of a second At The Drive-In reunion is surprising, is a rather large understatement. To say that there is a new At The Drive-In album seventeen years after the seminal ‘Relationship Of Command’, seems damn near miraculous. And yet, against all odds, 2017 welcomes the release of ‘in·ter a·li·a’, the first recorded output from the band since their initial break-up in 2001. It’s unexpected, yes, but more interestingly one could argue that it was largely unwanted by the fanbase.

 

‘Relationship Of Command’ remains one of the most important records of the last twenty years; hugely influential to the post-hardcore and emo explosion of the noughties, often aped but never matched in it’s perfect blend of spiky aggression and melodic ingenuity. After a tumultuous split, leading to the formation of The Mars Volta and Sparta, and a failed attempt at a first reunion in 2012, it seemed like the ship had sailed for the hope of new music from At The Drive-In.

 

Understandably, fans weren’t clamouring for a sub-par successor to a landmark album, from a band who spent considerable time in the press slinging mud at their former bandmates. Therefore, the question that immediately arises is an unfair, but inevitable one: is there any chance that ‘in·ter a·li·a’ can meet the staggeringly high quality of ‘Relationship Of Command’?

 

The answer, in short, is no. However, that doesn’t mean that ‘in·ter a·li·a’ is not worthy of attention. It was always to be expected that this record would be viewed in the shadow of its predecessor, which will undoubtedly lead to a level of scrutiny which wouldn’t be bestowed to any old album release. Given this, ‘in·ter a·li·a’ will likely suffer from not being reviewed as a piece of work in its own right. And while it may not share the same youthful energy and musical innovation of the band’s previous efforts, there’s a lot to like here.

 

Unfortunately, the shining moments on ‘in·ter a·li·a’ are hampered to a remarkable degree by a rather questionable production job from Rich Costey and At The Drive-In’s guitarist/co-vocalist, Omar Rodríguez-López. The guitars throughout ‘in·ter a·li·a’ are consistently buried in the mix, which is bizarre given Omar’s role within the band. His interplay with Keeley Davis (who replaces Jim Ward on guitar) is successful when audible, but a prevalent muddiness prevents the band’s signature jagged guitar attack from having the same impact as on previous releases. Instead, priority is given to Cedric Bixler-Zavala on main vocals. While he is on form throughout the album, the lack of a sufficiently punchy backdrop detracts from his performance somewhat.

 

This is a shame, as his spitfire delivery on ‘Call Broken Arrow’ and the Mike Patton-esque eccentricities of ‘Governed By Contagions’ prove to be among the highlights on ‘in·ter a·li·a’, unnecessarily diluted by a seemingly misinformed decision. Of course, these are older men playing a style of music that they helped invent in their youth, but this cosmetic choice makes the album sonically appear flabbier and more lethargic than it actually is its songwriting.

 

 

There’s very little to actually fault when it comes to the individual songs on the record. Sure, ‘Tilting At The Univendor’ and ‘Ghost Tape No.9’ are rather unremarkable points on the track listing, but the majority of the material on ‘in·ter a·li·a’ is otherwise praiseworthy. ‘Continuum’ steamrolls with a politically charged vocal delivery from Cedric, and boasts the most aggressive riffing on the album. Omar and Keeley’s swirling, intertwining guitar lines are slightly more emphasised on ‘Pendulum In A Peasant Dress,’ with a soaring arrangement which is most reflective of many of the bands that At The Drive-In would later influence, most evidently comparable to Thursday.

 

The main selling point of ‘in·ter a·li·a’ is the sheer number of memorable refrains. ‘Incurably Innocent’ features one of Cedric’s signature, uplifiting chorus melodies, bolstered by the barbed-wire tipped, high register octave run anchoring his delivery. The aforementioned ‘Call Broken Arrow’ and ‘Pendulum In A Peasant Dress’ are both similarly indicative of his ability to write an impassioned hook. Yet despite the undeniable catchiness and rhythmic complexity of these songs, the devastating impact of the unevenness of the mixing job cannot be understated.

 

 

It’s interesting to ponder what the reaction would be if a new band were to release ‘in·ter a·li·a.’ They would likely be lauded for the immediacy and intricacy of these songs. However, they ought to be chastised for the derivativeness of the music, as it lacks any real innovation, rigidly adhering to the post-hardcore template that dominated the rock scene a decade ago. And of course, the lack of force from the guitars due to the shoddy production must also be taken into account.

 

Obviously, At The Drive-In are not a new band, but engineers of the genre that skyrocketed to mainstream success in the wake of their disbandment. Considering this, while it may seem unfair to call ‘in·ter a·li·a’ a retread of ideas, the reality is that there is nothing new on offer here. The mixing woes aside, the best of the material here simply can’t compete with the band’s back catalogue, however entertaining in their own right many of these songs may be.

 

This amounts to ‘in·ter a·li·a’ being little more than a lesser version of past achievements, which although passable, fails to reach the high standard of the best of what rock music currently has to offer.

 

‘in·ter a·li·a’ is out now.

 

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