Is there any stopping Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala?
The guitar/vocal pair have forged a successful and at times wildly potent partnership since the 90s, from the spiky post-hardcore of At The Drive-In to the making-prog-cool-again (experi)mentalists Mars Volta. When the latter called it quits in 2013, you pondered if the talented twosome would do a Sonny & Cher, untangling from each other and ending their once fruitful relationship.
Well, no. The divorce was, thankfully, merely just a break. Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala succumbed to the seeming maelstrom of musical notes, melodies and themes swirling underneath their enviable locks by forming Antemasque, with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and Mars Volta drum buddy Dave Elitch drafted in.
Their self-titled debut album is an intriguing one. Fans of The Mars Volta’s sprawling, 10-minute multicoloured trip‑outs will be left disappointed and twiddling their thumbs. Lovers of At the Drive-In might also be a tad dejected. By this pair’s standards, Antemasque is streamlined stuff, with punchy straight-up rock opener 4AM failing to step over the three-minute finish line.
But while the record eschews big prog blow-outs, it excels in concise bursts of melody, hooks and punked-up riffs. Take I Got No Remorse, a tune opening with fuzzy, scuzzy guitar bombast before morphing into an inventive, simmering pop rocker. The moreish melodies of livewire highlight 50,000 Kilowatts wouldn’t sound out of place on mainstream radio.
It’s not all quite Rodríguez-López/Bixler-Zavala-lite, though. In The Lurch teases the angular rhythms that punctuated The Mars Volta so adroitly, while Providence is a creepy cocktail of washed-out reverb and the repeated chorus refrain, ‘You will burn, you will burn me at the stake.’
And what about the other members? Flea, who is with Antemasque on record only, isn’t quite the dynamic, bunny-hopping presence he is with his day-job cronies. Elitch – whose other recent endeavours include metal supergroup Killer Be Killed – is on predictably assured form.
The components mash together to form a tight yet paradoxical lattice. Given this band’s compelling, often phantasmagorical pedigree, at times it’s both exciting and underwhelming, engrossing and trite, intoxicating and a little bit sobering. Take it at face value, though, and Antemasque is an on-point, effervescent record of garage and retro-tinged rock that’s more than happy to take detours off the beaten path. It’s good to have Omar and Cedric back.