It’s been years but for At The Drive-In, it may as well still be 2001. The personnel have changed slightly with the departure of Jim Ward last year, but that hasn’t stopped Omar, Cedric et al. from attempting to rekindling the magic that took them to world-wide acclaim in 2000 prior to their break-up just 12 months later. And do they achieve what they evidently set out to do: depositing another high water mark in their brand of chaotic post-hardcore. Well, kinda… but not really.
Unfortunately for you, the reader, this review is going to be cushioned in a comparison to Relationship Of Command, the benchmark in post-hardcore. in•ter a•li•a does an admirable job in approximating the album’s intensity and building on it but it certainly does not feel as primal and vital as its predecessor. Relationship Of Command is a near-perfect piece built on the back of hard touring, in-fighting, strained relationships, political disillusionment and substance abuse. Today’s At The Drive-In has been there, done that and members are now career musicians looking to make a living. They’re not in the same headspace and it’s unlikely they can conjure up the same conditions they harnessed to write, for instance, One-Armed Scissor or Cosmonaut.
Like I said though, they certainly give it a red hot go. First single from the album, Governed By Contagions – reportedly about the state of US politics – is as close as they get. It’s an explosion of fire and fury that showcases guitarists Omar Rodriguez and Keeley Davis guitar work and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s dizzying riotous vocals. At the other end of the album, closer Hostage Stamps is similarly intricate with some outstanding back-and-forth between soloing guitars, frantic drums and rapid vocals giving everything space to breathe.
Some things never change though and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s word salad, sci-fi lyrics are still ever present and they, at times, feel very high school but Cedric can sell anything when he sings it with conviction. Incurably Innocent, a high point on the album, is lyrically some of his best work to date as he chronicles the journey of sex abuse victim.
Relationship of Command remains the gold standard, there’s no question about that but in•ter a•li•a should be applauded for the twin feats of just about recapturing that feeling of an all too brief moment in music and sounding more likely to push the boundaries of that style further than anyone else has in the intervening 17 years. This station is certainly now operational. See them in October. I know I will.