Article By: Shaun Katz ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
How does one begin to measure the success of an album? Is it in popularity, execution, or simply in the songwriting? Today, we’re looking at the May 2017 release of ‘In•ter a•li•a‘ from El Paso, Texas’ At The Drive In, released via Rise Records.
Surely the most frustrating thing for an artist would be in how fans and critics size up a new release against a towering work from almost 18 years ago.
‘Relationship of Command‘ was a masterfully frenetic album, not only monumental in its urgency and attack but one which also planted the seeds for At The Drive-In‘s break-up shortly afterward – which, according to the rumour mill, began with how the band responded to producer Ross Robinson‘s working methods.
Their 2017 follow-up ‘In•ter a•li•a‘ has the difficult task of standing in the shadow of ‘Relationship Of Command‘, resulting in a listening experience that’s ultimately solid, yet frustrating in comparison.
‘In•ter a•li•a‘ sticks its fangs back in, precisely where RoC left its mark. It has the band’s signature tensions, angular lead guitar, and vocal spasms raging against the various machines of injustice. Filled with a mixed bag of inconsistent songs; some which grow on you, some which feel formulaic, and then others that are just exceptional.
What’s hard to shake – for me – is that At The Drive In took us to the top of the mountain with their previous album, one with a singular and striking vision, to one now that feels thin and off the mark in places. Even if there’s still plenty of material on the album to give old ATDI fans their long-awaited fix, ‘In•ter a•li•a‘ seems to be built off the same emotional design as its predecessor – and there lies the problem.
‘In•ter a•li•a‘ begins solidly enough, yet doesn’t seem to manage to follow through on its convictions. The album keeps itself in a more song-based state, rather than a conceptual one. This can, at times, feel underwhelming, resulting in a record more for loyal fans, rather than newer listeners.
None of that should take away the fact that there are some truly memorable songs scattered throughout this album. The opening track “No Wolf Like The Present” feels as if it’s feeding off our politically volatile landscape, even if Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics remain as cryptic as ever – it’s all in the vibe.
Bixler-Zavala brings more of an accomplished, melodic vocal style, that sounds closer to real singing than simply just screaming this time. This serves the band well, particularly on the stunning “Ghost Tape No. 9“.
‘In•ter a•li•a‘s greatest moments are some of the band’s best, with many other exceptional tracks like “Governed By Contagion” and “Continuum”, which really hits the spot with its sharp left turns and gasping aggression. This adds up to a record that feels far more successful in its output than what Faith No More or Refused were able to achieve with their respective comebacks.
“Hostage Stamps” in particular showcases the band at their very best, with such a combustible, punchy energy, that it’s quite annoying how revved up it gets you. Considering how the song feels tacked on to the very end of the album, it’s almost like an afterthought, instead of an explosive start.
The whole experience is satisfying enough, but I wonder what the results could have been if the album had been more grandly conceptualised. It’s possible that the presence of Jim Ward (who isn’t included in the reformed line-up) could have helped the band shape more of a sonic experience that truly jelled.
What is wonderful about the entire album, though, is how well the vocals and lead guitar play off each other, which at times provides that perfect manic essence that many of us have come to love from At The Drive In. It’s ultimately a solid listen that I’m enjoying repeatedly, but one that still keeps me salivating for better things to come.
You can purchase In•ter a•li•a on CD or vinyl via ADTI’s webstore.
‘In•ter a•li•a‘ Tracklist:
01. No Wolf Like The Present
03. Tilting At The Univendor
04. Governed By Contagions
05. Pendulum In A Peasant Dress
06. Incurably Innocent
07. Call Broken Arrow
09. Torrentially Cutshaw
10. Ghost – Tape Nº 9
11. Hostage Stamps