Sound — 9
At The Drive-In are synonomous with the the punk revival of the '90s, too wild to follow grunge trends yet too inconsistent to ever fit in with the burgeoning mathcore scene. At the time of recording the band as a whole was close to breaking, having spent the better part of 6 years as El Paso's odd ones out and in particular the two afro headed aficionados Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were firmly in the grip of a hazy dream world of hallucogens and non stop touring, having yet to emerge as the intense cult figures they would later become. With such a bleak setting and little recognition up until this point ATDI recorded what is in my opinion a zeitgeist of the nineties, a pseudo-political tirade against everything and nothing, with the already tried and tested formula of Lopez's effects driven ambience and jagged chords mixed with Zavalas tongue twisting lyrical epics that tell a very jarring story. One cannot underestimate the importance of Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos as this blue print for a five piece band would prove popular with later acts in the same vein soon emerging after the sudden split. The record comes across as very raw, and the album opener Arc Arsenal sets the tone for much of the record with it's use of vibrant tribal drumming and slicing guitar lines. From here we as listeners hear a dizzying mix of influences and we notice first hand how different every song is from the one that preceded it. With such tracks as Pattern Against user, Cosmonaut and Enfilade creating a generation of angsty teens rushing to defend the band from the brand of 'emocore' a definition that had only just become musical lingo. Yet what struck me when listening to it was the pure passion and unusual song structures that flew in the face of every established rule of musical theory, such an unorthodox approach could only come from a band that had little to lose and everything to express, something which came across as very fresh for it's time, and still does despite the dilution of this bands sound by the many imitators. Yet despite this the raw sound and rushed nature on some of the tracks robbed this album of timeless classic status as tracks such as cosmonaut would have benefited greatly from a clearer chorus, and had this been done would have rivalled any of ATDI's more mainstream contemporarys in terms of being 'catchy'.
Lyrics — 9
Lyrically Cedrics words make little sense upon first listen, yet after about three times through one finds perfect clarity with the messages that this man is trying to convey, with the very unusual pairing of space and social injustice meeting on more than one song. Tracks such as One Armed Scissor, Cosmonaut and Non-Zero Possibility forming a kind of mini story, with Cosmonaut being the intense panic and fear and the album closer Non-Zero being a crash both emotionally and physically. What makes this album enjoyable is Zavalas never afraid to experiment, with tracks such as Pattern Against User veering off into Rage Against Machine style vocal raps, yet such forays avoid the musical pitfalls of crude metal elements that RATM engaged in from time to time. Invalid Litter Dept and Rolodex Propaganda sees Cedric borrowing copiously from artists such as Bowie and any number of 80's pop bands with the synth heavy narration. Interestingly though, these tracks are mid record yet despite this fit with the rest of the album like a glove aswell as showcasing the political cynicism of El Paso's factory workers, such commentarys would again highlight ATDI as pioneers later on with bands such as Sum 41 and Green Day 'going political' yet with this band it was never forced and always passionate. My one criticism here however is that the impenetrable nature of the lyrics on both Jim and Cedrics part ('have trigger will travel anyone? ') would perhaps stave off any listeners new to the ATDI sound, leading them to the mistaken assumption of being pretentious while over looking the heartfelt delivery and passion behind the lyricism.
Overall Impression — 10
Relationship Of Command is streets ahead of anything else similar in the genre, with each song containing clever hooks that you pick up with each listen and this is something I love in any work of music. However it is not without it's flaws, the aforementioned raw nature of the record rears it's ugly head on more than one occasion and this is a real shame, especially considering how impressive it is already, also the effects on some of the songs do seem like overkill, yet fans of TMV come to expect this when dealing with Lopez's fusion style of playing anyway. The albums uncompromising approach at expression through lyricism will leave some out in the cold and patience is key with this record. The impact this album had cannot be underestimated, frenzied claims of being the next Nirvana were rampant. Relationship of command single handledy revived punk at least for a short while and gave it an artistic twist, yet sadly no sooner had the art punk cathedral been erected the ravages of nearly a decade under the influence of drugs took it's toll, with At The Drive-In leaving Relationship Of Command behind as it's curtain call, albeit a flawed one.