Home Music The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium [Vinyl reissue]

The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium [Vinyl reissue]

Record collecting is pain — anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. Every record collector has a list of “holy grail” items, the ones that are long out-of-print, their after-market prices gravely inflated by predatory flippers keen to make a few hundred dollars from those willing to part with their cash. For the longest time, this was the desperate lot of fans of Texas prog-rockers The Mars Volta. For those unaware, here’s a quick overview: though the band’s quality is hotly debated by many, their first album, De-Loused in the Comatorium, has long been one of the most widely-sought grails, with even terrible-sounding copies of it fetching upwards of $500 on Discogs. Earlier this year, the band released La Realidad de Los Sueños, an 18LP collection of their entire discography, each album lovingly and painstakingly remastered specifically for the set. This set was prohibitively expensive for anyone who wanted to get their hands on De-Loused, but individually-reissued versions of their catalogue followed, sold by German recording studio Clouds Hill Recordings — who handled the remasters — with the plan of “if they sell out, we’ll just make more.” This is all to say: if you endure enough misery, one day, you may find yourself basking in the splendor of a long-awaited reissue that won’t cost you half a month’s rent.

If you’re looking to pick up this reissue, there’s something we should cover: from Clouds Hill Recordings, right now, you can own this album for $60, including and tax. Record costs are on the rise everywhere, especially considering the timetables for records being pressed right now. Even with that increase, $60 is a hefty price to put on a brand new, in-print record, and one that shoots past even the recording quality giants at Mobile Fidelity (Mo-Fi), one of the most trusted leaders in selling you a really, really good sounding old Bob Dylan record for $50. To those who might feel the $30/LP cost might be a little excessive: you’re completely right. Make no mistake, De-Loused — which, we’ll get to in a moment — is an extremely good album, but there’s little excuse for a standard, black, 2LP record should cost as much as it does. If you get anything from this review, let it be that you might be okay waiting until the price on this one drops a little bit.

If you don’t feel like you can wait, or just don’t really want to — after all, record collectors who missed either of the highly-limited pressings that existed before this one have been waiting since 2003 for it — the great news is that it’s worth the wait, even if it’s not quite worth the cost. The Mars Volta and Clouds Hill have been openly ecstatic about the band’s albums getting into people’s hands after their intense labor over these remasters, and based solely on De-Loused, that pride is completely merited. Even without a top-notch sound system, this is worth cranking the volume up on, giving the album’s rich detail the space to come through in a way that it just doesn’t when heard digitally. While the album’s first half may not quite pop as much as it should, its back-half — from “Cicatriz ESP” onwards — is more than worth the price of admission. In fact, “Cicatriz ESP” alone is worth it; the song’s mammoth 12-plus-minute length cycle of “groove/freak-out/guitar wandering/back to groovy freak-out” is somehow more vital here than it was in 2003.

No matter the format, though, De-Loused in the Comatorium is still a thrilling and bizarre listen, whether it’s your first listen or your hundredth. When Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez emerged from the two-year silence that followed Relationship of Command, the third and (at least until 2016) final album by their seminal post-hardcore band At the Drive-In and released the Tremulant EP, nobody quite knew how to process the radically different direction the band had taken. When De-Loused was released a year later, though, their vivid vision for The Mars Volta was immediately clear — and it was entirely addictive. Its lyrics are inscrutable (“Exoskeletal junction at the railroad tonight”? “Sutured contusion/ Beyond the anthills of the dawning of this plague/ Said I’ve lost my way”?) and its hallucinatory wanderings should not work — but, like any good prog band, the wandering is half the point.

Lovers of De-Loused will also be delighted at the wide release of Landscape Tantrums, the excellently-named collection of demo versions of all but two of De-Loused’s tracks. While it may seem like an artifact solely for obsessives that have been unable to shake their obsession with the album these last two decades, it’s actually a remarkable alternate journey through these songs. No song here is different enough that you’ll find yourself unable to recognize it immediately, but the differences are myriad and highly noticeable: the longer, atmospheric opening of “Son et lumière” and its vocals being at the front of the mix, the added levels of funky chaos in “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of),” and especially the almost-totally-acoustic version of “Televators,” which sees Bixler-Zavala trading his skyscraping range for something far more tender, and as a result, even more devastating. The cost of the vinyl edition is somehow more ludicrous than the one of the studio release ($43 for a single LP?!), but it will be more than worth keeping an eye out for more affordable copies.

For an album as dense and difficult-to-decipher as De-Loused, it’s disappointing that its legacy to many of their fans has been one characterized by inaccessibility and frustration. The album deserves far better than that — despite how hard it is to fully understand it, the record is actually remarkably easy to love, and shockingly-easy to traverse repeatedly. Their catalog’s complete reissue will hopefully lead to new fans entering the fold, ready to tackle the confusion and majesty of each album. Hopefully, it will wipe the slate of frustration clean for the record nerds who have finally been able to wipe these albums from their Discogs wishlists, paving the way for a renaissance of love for The Mars Volta’s brilliant, confounding relationship of excess.

Summary
The long-beloved debut of The Mars Volta sees a long-awaited vinyl reissue, which will delight record collectors as much as it will cause their wallets extreme despair.
90 %
The Holy Grail
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