At The Drive-In - in•ter a•li•a (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

At The Drive-In

in•ter a•li•a (2017)

Rise Records

Whether you'd like to admit it or not, At The Drive-In helped shape a generation of musicians for decades to come when they took the 90's by storm. Be it the underground or mainstream outlets like MTV, they showed they had something very unique to them in the realm of post-hardcore with albums whose statements resonated deep within those who were willing to look past the commercial fluff. 

Come 2001, on the heels of arguably their biggest success, Relationship of Command, they decided to call it quits. Over a decade later, the drama and turmoil that plagued them would rear their heads again on a few attempted reunions but now, in•ter a•li•a (their fourth full-length) sets their return in stone. How fitting that it would pick up right where they left off, aping ROC -- admittedly a bit too much. Nonetheless, it's another solid outing from a band that could be separated and thrown to the ends of the Earth, only for the magnetic pull of making music to bring them back in a stylistic plunge that feels so familiar, it's as if nothing ever happened. 

This album, while enjoyable, is conflicting because of the identity crisis I mentioned above. I adore ROC (my fave record from them) and to be honest, I thought the Antemasque record that Cedric Zavala (vocals) and Omar Rodriguez (guitars) did with Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) was the closest we'd get to another ATDI record, physically as well as in terms of sound. in•ter a•li•a however fills the gap between the third LP and that Antemasque self-titled. Here, it's like the natural progression and order of things, but with a cleaner and sleeker sound. Off the cuff, "No Wolf Like The Present" jumps out at you and sets the tone for what's to come. It's a politically-charged affair -- a rallying call asking those who care to stand up while questioning those who run. Zavala's vocals are on point (although a few later tracks are way overproduced and the instrumental loudness washes his voice away, drowning out the power of his voice). His cryptic lyrics, however, stand as immortal as ever. Another crucial element to note is that as the album goes on, Jim Ward is missed... both on guitars and vocals. When Zavala and Rodriguez formed The Mars Volta after the split, Ward took guitarist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar to form Sparta - a more melodic, post-hardcore unit and I took to them more. With ATDI though, Ward was a different beast, offering background vocals that padded Zavala and threw in a rougher dynamic to Rodriguez's guitar flair. He's the only one missing this time around and honestly, his screams would have diluted the clean and polished nature of the record perfectly. The melodies needed roughing up but I must commend Hajjar who turns in the best kit-work of his career here and makes up with some thudding percussive work. 

That said, after the first five tracks or so, the ROC feel should have died down. ATDI could have varied it up and thrown in some songs a la Acrobatic Tenement or In/Casino/Out. Instead, they double down (as with "Governed By Contagions") and offer more or less a tribute to ROC with almost every rendition feeling like a B-side off that album. They pack in poppier elements (and let's be real, ATDI have always done this as per "Hourglass", "Initiation", "Fahrenheit" or "Picket Fence Cartel") when songs like "Tilting at the Univendor"  and "Incurably Innocent" hit. But like I said, it's not to the point where you're annoyed. Everything's so well done and the musicianship is amazing but ATDI are always technically proficient... it's just that extra edge that's the sum of all their moving parts which puts them that one step ahead. And which sadly felt lacking at times. They even tried to replicate the garage feel of old but it just ends up mis-calibrated on one or two tracks. When you got insane, swirling riffs at lightning speeds from Rodriguez, this issue can be easily masked though. 

"Ghost Tape" is a refreshing track on the other hand -- a slow burn in the dregs a la TMV but it's still not enough to meet the high standard the band set years ago. The one that influenced the likes of Thursday, Touche Amore, Comadre, Frameworks and so many more in the post-harcore/screamo genre. I was waiting for the next "Invalid Litter Department" too but instead I have to settle for the frantic rush of "Hostage Stamps" -- which in all fairness isn't a bad substitute at all. In the end, I'm just glad ATDI are actually back making music together again, seemingly drama-free and rising up when a voice like theirs is needed now more than ever. If I hadn't heard ROC, this album would have probably gotten a half-star more, but as it stands it's just above decent. ATDI have always surpassed that bar to me though and live in the skies of fucking brilliant. No worries, they just got back on the horse and I'm sure the rust will be shaken off soon.