Sound — 9
I've heard a lot of people say that At the Drive-In is punk, emo, post-hardcore, prog-rock, and various other genres. But honestly, trying to pinpoint ATDI's exact genre is just an exercise in futility. The best way to describe At the Drive-In is that they're innovators. Not punks, not emos, not prog-rockers. ATDI sounds like no other band to date. They combine the energy of punk rock, the artistry of progressive rock, and the emotion of emo. The album begins with Arcarsenal, which is a whirling torrent of emotion. Arcarsenal is followed by Pattern Against User, which seems to channel the energy of Rage Against the Machine up until near the end where the vocals shift to a more melodic tone that almost reminds me of Radiohead. The third track, One Armed Scissor, is without a doubt ATDI's most famous song, and for good reason; the song seems to combine punk riffs with prog-style time signatures and song structure. One Armed Scissor also introduces the dual vocal style of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Jim Ward. While Cedric's vocals are much smoother and more melodic (even while screaming), Ward's screams of "Cut Away" in the chorus are much rougher. Surprisingly, this dynamic works extremely well. Another great aspect of the song is the bassline. Whereas in most rock songs the bass tends to follow the guitar closely, the bass is almost entirely separate, which adds a touch of originality. After One Armed Scissor, we're thrusted into the fast, raw energy of Sleepwalk Capsules. This song, like One Armed Scissor, makes use of dual vocals, and does so, once again, very well. This track is undoubtedly one of the better songs on the album. You'd think that with all the energy of the first four songs, ATDI just won't let up. Well, it does. Normally, I'm turned off by soft songs, but Invalid Litter Dept., the fifth track, is incredibly. Cedric delivers the vocals almost as though he's reading directly from the lyric sheets; there's no melody to the vocals, but it works. When the prechorus comes in, Jim Ward delivers a much more melodic "Dancin on the corpse's ashes" followed by Cedric's (now melodic) chorus. The next track, Mannequin Republic, is just a loud punk song that grabs you and doesn't let go. It's nothing incredibly original in comparision with the other songs on the album, but it's a fun song nonetheless. The following track, Enfilade, showcases the band's experimental, progressive side. It starts off with a phone conversation about a kidnapping (Iggy Pop makes a cameo as the kidnapper) and is followed by a distorted, wailing guitar courtesy of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who is today without a doubt one of the greatest guitarists in modern music. Paul Hinojos' bass follows with a fast, snaking line complimented by a tribal drum beat from Tony Hajjar. When the distorted vocals come in, you can almost sense a violent, warning tone. A small bass solo follows that is quickly drowned out in a violent chorus of "Sacrificed on railroad tracks, freight train coming". This is without a doubt the best track on the record (at least the original version; Fearless record's 04 re-release had two bonus tracks, one which I find to be the best ATDI's ever done) and almost seems to forshadow the sound of The Mars Volta-the band that Cedric and Omar formed after ATDI disbanded. Unfortunately, the best song is followed by the worst; Rolodex Propaganda. Don't get me wrong though, the song is awesome. Cedric's energetic vocals are combined with Iggy Pop's to create a sort of 80's pop sound. The only reason I regard it as the worst song on the record is the fact that it just feels less inspired than the rest of the album. It's still a cool song, though. Quarantined, the following song, includes probably one of the best and most atmospheric bass lines I've heard. It begins with the sound of rain and thunder, and the bass slowly flows in. The song then evolves into an emotional song about isolation, and you can definetly feel it. After Quarantined, we have the brutal sonic assault called Cosmonaut. It's an excellent song that channels a feeling of impending doom and it's definetly one of my favorites. The next track, Non-Zero Possibility, is definetly the softest song on the album, and almost feels out of place. If you have the Fearless Records 2004 re-release, you'll also get two bonus tracks. The first, Extracurricular, is a pretty cool song but the low level of production (it was recorded sometime before this album)definetly makes it feel out of place with the rest of the albums. The second song, Catacombs, has a much higher level of production than Extracurricular and sounds just incredible. Cedric definetly screams a lot more in Catacombs than any other song on the record, so it may be a little too brutal for some, but I personally regard it as my favorite ATDI song.
Lyrics — 10
Cedric Bixler-Zavala is well-known for being a cryptic lyricist. He crafts unconventional lyrics which will probably sound like gibberish when you first listen to it. However, I eventually grew to admire Cedric's skill. He definetly is the most creative writer in modern music.
Overall Impression — 10
This is without a doubt the greatest album of the decade so far. It's likely that you'll never find an album that sounds like this. Although the bands that ATDI spawned, The Mars Volta and Sparta, are great bands in their own right (The Mars Volta is without a doubt the greatest prog band of our time), it's such a same that At the Drive-In had to break up as soon as they got famous.