At The Drive-In – ‘’ (Album Review)

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The last time At The Drive-In released an album, my brain wasn’t ready for them. Over the years since 2000’s Relationship Of Command, I’ve adapted to and embraced the world of challenging, complex, left-of-centre music – including, of course, the ultra-prolific output of tone-mangler Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and The Mars Volta. Now, 17 years have passed – and ATDI are back, determined to pick up where they left off.

It goes without saying that a lot has happened since the turn of the millennium. Cedric Bixler, Rodriguez-Lopez, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar have shaken hands firmly with success through The Mars Volta and Sparta – and on, Sparta guitarist Keeley Davis has joined the ATDI ranks, replacing founding six-stringer Jim Ward after the latter departed just over a year ago.

Change is the only constant in life – and At The Drive-In’s individual members have weathered countless cultural, personal, and musical changes, staying true to themselves in the process.

When it comes to ATDI, integrity and instability are inseparably interlinked. commences with the raw and punky No Wolf Like The Present, a track that makes a clear and unequivocal statement: At The Drive-In may be veterans, but they remain capable of accessing seemingly bottomless reservoirs of youthful energy. Continuum follows through with solid funky grooves and Bixler drawing on the spirit of Zack De La Rocha, poetic statements pushed through slapback echo before Rodriguez-Lopez pulls us through a tortured yet spacious bridge and straight into a hurricane-force breakdown.

Beyond punk-fuelled weak spot Tilting At The Univendor, ATDI really hit their stride with Governed By Contagion, Pendulum In A Peasant Dress, Incurably Innocent, and Call Broken Arrow. Each cut is exactly what long-time fans will have been waiting for, a mass of prime-cut post-hardcore punched out in inspired and workmanlike fashion by a band dead set on honouring their legacy. The only problem becomes clearer through Holtzclaw and Torrentially Cutshaw: At The Drive-In get stuck in one gear for too long, and it’s hard to not start taking the results of their hard work for granted.

The sheer amount of creativity that has to be pumped in behind the scenes in order for any band to pull off this kind of music so consistently is impressive, intimidating, and respect-worthy in itself. But for me, the tone-changing Ghost Tape No.9 came two tracks too late; its long, gracefully lumbering Led Zeppelin groove would’ve fit perfectly at an earlier point, placed in order to shift the pace amid so much relentless franticness. Still, it is a fucking winner – and Hostage Stamps proved an ideal closer,’s ultimate highlight, a perfect and strident victory lap that feels well-deserved to say the least. as a whole has its flaws – but its component parts, taken in isolation, have relatively few. At The Drive-In have done their history justice, while leaving plenty of potential for further expansion and evolution in their back pockets. They are back, that much is certain…but will they expand their collective creative capabilities by another notch in the future?

That much remains to be seen…

90% (Essential Listening!)

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Posted on 26 April 2017

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