At The Drive-In: Relationship of Command – album review

At The Drive-In ‘Relationship of Command’ (Transgressive Records)
CD/LP/DL
Released: 22nd April 2013

First released back in 2000, ‘Relationship of Command’ was to be At The Drive-In’s finest and last album. Just months after its release the band imploded, with the members disbanding to create new groups. Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Omar Rodgriguez-Lopez and Paul Hinojos went on to form The Mars Volta, whereas Tony Hajjir and Jim Ward formed Sparta. The album still stands as At The Drive-In’s defining work, and debatably one of the most important and influential records of its time. It is powerfully energetic, belligerent and beautifully ruthless, whilst also being the most direct and composed album of the band’s career.

With a flourish of fast, hard-hitting attacks, ‘Arcarsenal’ is a lean track that blows you away from the get go. The intro immediately reminds me of inserting ‘Relationship of Command’ into the stereo of my ex-boyfriend’s 1970 MGB GT and hastily reversing off the drive. Screaming vocals layered over loud percussion and heavy guitar riffs continue to build up until the song bluntly ends at the reach of its climax.

It is near impossible to discuss ‘Relationship of Command’ without referring to ‘One Armed Scissor’. Being their most successful single to date, it’s not difficult to understand why. Stupendous bass lines and raging riffs forge a song brimming with aggression and power. It is a ferocious punk anthem, occasionally slowing down to build tension, only to then let loose once again with a caustic guitar assault. ‘One Armed Scissor’ remains to be a track that almost personifies the band in its remarkable passion and agonizing brilliance. The music takes an intriguing spacey break at the end the song, before bursting into the almost frenzied speed of ‘Sleepwalk Capsules’. Epic in its structure and range, At The Drive-In make use of everything in their arsenal during this one track – the fiercely immediate start up, diverse and emotive vocals, and the detached culmination of atmospheric guitar work.

Arguably the best song on the album, ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’ focusses on the Juarez murders and the controversy that surrounds them –  an issue close to the hearts of the El Paso based band. The emotional spoken word verses make this track much more methodical and melancholy than others, proving that the band are just as comfortable in a slower setting. ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’ comes as a slight relief after the delirium of the first four songs, with its earnest passion drifting by in a contemplative state. The track begins to heighten to a colossal crescendo of Bixlar-Zavala’s gnarled screams, melded with heavy riffs before ultimately fading out.

There are definite points throughout ‘Relationship of Command’ where At The Drive-In incorporate more experimental elements into their music, such as during ‘Enfilade’ and ‘Quarantined’. The former proves to be one of the most unique tracks on the album, the texture of which is stretched with the use of electronic movements and tones. The song opens with Iggy Pop roleplaying a hyena kidnapper making a ransom phone call to “mother leopard”. After an intro and verse made up of sonic sound effects, distorted vocals and high pitched guitars, ‘Enfilade’ explodes into the extremely energetic chorus of screams and “insane” riffs. With ‘Quarantined’, however, the volume of the album is maintained but the tempo is slowed down, creating a more easy going track that also emits energetic and passionate undertones. Starting with a sample of a thunderstorm, ‘Quarantined’ consists of fantastic vocals atop of effective, layered sounds and churning guitars.

With ‘Relationship of Command’, At The Drive-In prove that not only are they talented musicians, but also excellent songwriters. Their consistency to deliver dynamic intensity and striking energy throughout the record is exceptional. Considered one of the greatest examples of modern music, what the band accomplished with ‘Relationship of Command’ is a true triumph. They managed to produce an album that maintained credibility among devoted fans of the post-hardcore genre, yet was accessible enough to bring new listeners into the fold. This is an album that has become a timeless masterpiece, and hopefully, with the reissue, a new generation of music-lovers will be drawn in by its urgency and phenomenal instrumentation.

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