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Together Forever: Omar and Cedric, partners in punk/prog

Rock ‘n’ roll history is awash with legendary partnerships: Page and Plant, Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards… But we can’t think of a musical partnership with as many ups and downs, or indeed as many projects, as Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. This week, they’re back in the UK with their latest band, Antemasque. To honour this occasion, we're taking a look back on the duo's greatest collaborative moments to date.


At early At The Drive-In shows, the most memorable moment of the set was always the song they closed with: Napoleon Solo. Written about the deaths of two of the band’s young friends in a car crash, and their finding out about it while on the road, the raw emotion and sheer, unfettered rage Cedric unleashed onstage while performing this was both genuinely shocking and remarkably powerful. Check out this super-intense performance from 1999, which cuts conversational babble dead.


While ATD-I’s second full-length release, 1998’s In/Casino/Out, had won the El Paso quintet a faithful underground fan base, it was 2000’s genius Relationship Of Command album that prompted widespread acclaim and adoration. Suddenly Cedric and Omar’s frantic and unhinged stage antics were catapulted out of sweaty, post-hardcore gigs in tiny venues and flung directly into the path of TV shows and main-stage appearances at huge festivals. One Armed Scissor sounds like a sonic revolution, but the inherent tension in the track took on a whole new level live, as the band struggled with its new success and exposure. 14 years later, One Armed Scissor still sounds totally fresh.


De Facto is basically the Cedric and Omar equivalent of being in a jam band. The mostly-improvised, dub-influenced instrumentals the duo recorded with their future Mars Volta bandmates (sound technician Jeremy Ward and keyboardist Isaiah Owens) are, for the most part, entirely un-fun to listen to unless, we imagine, you are a stoner, trying to get grounded at the end of a long night. However, the band’s two albums and three EPs are peppered with some interesting moments that serve to give some insight into Cedric and Omar’s sheer commitment to mind-expansion. De Facto is most listenable when a strong guitar line is incorporated, as on Cordova.


The prog direction of The Mars Volta’s 2003 debut album, De-Loused In The Comatorium, may have been a shock to ATD-I fans, but Cedric considered it an over-simplified version of what they had originally intended, thanks in part to Rick Rubin’s production. In 2004, a newly-sober Mars Volta released their second full-length, Frances The Mute. With Omar on production duties, an unabashed level of experimentation was permitted to take place, but the band was grounded by, and still reeling from, the heroin-related death of Jeremy Ward. The push and pull of those two factors resulted in a masterpiece that was more cohesive than anything else the band ever created.


Given the fact that The Mars Volta broke up in such a bitter manner - Cedric blamed Omar for not being committed enough to the band, and wrote a huge declaration to fans explaining in detail why he didn’t want to “be some progressive housewife” that’s “cool with watching their partner go fuck other bands” - the fact that Antemasque exists at all feels like a bit of a miracle. Refreshingly, the new quartet seems to have abandoned the willfully obscure noodling that came to define The Mars Volta, and returned to simpler song structures. Welcome back, fellas.