When Omar Rodriguez-Lopéz and Cedric Bixler-Zavala diverged from the much-loved post-hardcore band At The Drive-In, they went on a two-man mission to out-prog the proggiest proggers in progland with The Mars Volta, an outfit designed to give life to their unique inner visions through often baffling tricks of the guitar and stretched-to-the-limit human voice. It’s not for nothing that this box’s title translates as ‘the reality of dreams’.
Starting with debut EP Tremulant and all six of their albums this weighty, 18-LP box set has been remastered specifically for vinyl, is limited to 5,000 copies and is not available on any other format. It also includes a photo-book and a badge – for the love of God don’t forget about the badge.
But the main reason for its existence is Landscape Tantrums, the borderline-mythical unfinished original recordings of the songs that would become De-Loused In The Comatorium after producer Rick Rubin got his hands on them.
It’s no disappointment. While Rodriguez-Lopéz’s flawless musical dexterity landed fully formed, impenetrable and entirely unpredictable, the rawness draws a bridge between their punk past and ever-more progressive future, the intense groove of Drunkship Of Lanterns contrasted highly against Bixler-Zavala’s sometimes animalistic shriek.
Recorded during a period of heavy drug use, it makes for an almost uncomfortably intimate experience as we’re dragged into the bleak concept at the heart of it all: the view from inside the main character’s coma, caused by an overdose of morphine and rat poison.
Rodriguez-Lopéz has said: “As a work of art in its own right, this set also needs to be seen as the end of a story.” But it’s better to see it as an excuse to go back to the very start, and relive the unfolding wizardry that followed at dizzying speed over the rest of the albums included here.
What reveals itself is music as science, science as emotion, emotion as inspiration, put together by crazed geniuses with virtuoso skills. ‘Lost’ songs A Plague Upon Your Hissing Children and Eunuch Provocateur are respectively a spittle-flecked freak-out and a glorious explosion of guitar wonk, adding the final pieces to one of the most complex, often frustrating but ultimately rewarding puzzles in modern progressive rock.