They're known for abstract lyrical themes, epic song structures and feral performances, but the Mars Volta's new album, "The Bedlam in Goliath" (due Tuesday), takes the band's eccentric, neo-prog rock to realms that are downright bizarre, even for them.
It all began when songwriter-guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez purchased an antique Ouija board at a flea market while visiting Jerusalem. The unique item was a gift for singer-lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and Lopez says when the pair began to play with the piece, called a Soothsayer, they ended up contacting a spirit named Goliath, as well as two females who were involved in a love triangle with him.
Recalling their eerie experiences with the curio from the road via phone, Lopez says he and his bandmate became so entranced by the messages that the Soothsayer became the thematic centerpiece for the new record. Handwritten poems they found inside the curio were translated and incorporated directly into the album as well.
Concept albums with spiritual subtext are de rigueur for the Mars Volta -- its previous releases have been inspired by found diaries, deceased friends and band members, and religious fanaticism -- but this time the inspiration turned sinister.
"I started getting nervous because it began asking for things in a threatening way and Cedric was getting more and more into it. As someone who's overcome a drug addiction, I saw the obsessiveness and compulsion. To me it was no different than when I decided to get clean and Jeremy [Ward, former bandmate who overdosed in 2003] was still on drugs. You could see it from a distance and be like, oh man, this isn't good," Lopez says.
Lopez took the Soothsayer away from Bixler and buried it.
That's when things really started to get strange. Lopez says the band's longtime sound guy "freaked out" because of "Bedlam's" supernatural origin, and his band was plagued by illness, relationship problems and unexplained technical glitches (disappearing tracks and jumbled computer programs) throughout the recording process.
The story would almost sound like a ploy to sell records if it didn't come from this band, arguably one of the most sincere and passionate rock bands of the modern era. Still, that hasn't stopped their label from trying to market the menacing story with an online video game. ("We had nothing to do with that," Lopez says.)
Does Lopez worry about karmic consequences of dabbling in the dark side?
"In fear lies a lesson," he says matter-of-factly. "People fear what they don't understand. These songs represented struggle and misery, but now, they bring us complete joy."
THE MARS VOLTA
WHERE: Bren Events Center, 100 Bren Events Center Drive, Irvine
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday
PRICE: $39.50 (sold out)
INFO: (949) 824-5000