Relationship of Command Album reviews.
Release Date: 09.12.00
Record label: emd / virgin
Coming to a Theatre Near You
by: matt halverson
"Have you ever tasted skin?/sink your, sink your teeth in it," sings - check that, screams - Cedric Bixler of At the Drive-In on "Arcarsenel." Take lyrics like those any way you want to, but when they follow the churning, disorienting tribal-drums of the song's intro, they're enough to make you think you might just be dealing with a band of cannibals. Cautiously advance a little further into Relationship of Command, their third album and Grand Royal debut, and you'll find the messages only become more absurd and harmlessly cathartic rants. ATDI shouldn't be taken any more seriously than they take themselves.
At first listen, it's hard not to compare the El Paso punk quintet to rap/metal pioneers Rage Against the Machine. Bixler sounds disturbingly similar to now-defunct RATM's front man Zach de la Rocha, and guitarist Omar Rodriquez shows a flair for technically complex effects akin to those of Tom Morello. But that's where the comparisons end. Where RATM was a distinctly political band that used its music to rally neo-revolutionaries, ATDI is more comfortable using its music to drop-kick listeners in the chest. A locomotive of adrenaline-charged punk, Command is the coming-out party for a band that has toiled in small-club obscurity for nearly six years.
But to classify ATDI as strictly a punk band would be a little naive. They'll assault you with Rodriquez's speed metal guitar and Tony Haijar's oh my god he's torturing those fucking drums beats, but they're a truly evolved form of punk - they use a keyboard for Christ's sake. Songs like "Pattern Against User" and "Mannequin Republic" are face-forward shit-kickers, but they're tempered by the trance-like quality of "Enfilade." With spacey guitars and Bixler's electronically filtered vocals, it hints at a punk evolution. "Rolodex Propaganda" even dabbles in Radiohead's OK Computer sci-fi exploration.
When he softens his tone, Bixler exhibits a surprisingly melodic, breathy vocal range that belies the anger with which he usually screams. As the napalm-guitar carpet bombing subsides from time to time, he'll even lower his voice to a whisper. Without the onslaught of driving stomp to drowned him out, it's possible to make out what he's saying from time to time - but that doesn't mean it makes sense. "Skin graft machinery/sputnik sickles found in the seats"? "Bullet ridden with vermin/be it the peasant stark frenzy"? When you figure it out, drop me a line.
Stream-of-consciousness lyrics aside, ATDI is a refreshingly new step in the progression (and to a certain extent, the rebirth) of punk. Though far from politically charged, the fist-pumping anthems on ATDI's Relationship of Command are a call to arms of sorts. At the very least, they'll make you want to throw a trash can through the nearest store front - or maybe just dream of doing it.