Album review: After a long break, ATD-I’s nonconformist In•ter a•li•a is the real deal

This somewhat overdue fourth studio album – they released two before Relationship of Command’s success – is the Texans’ full-length return, 17 years on from their last LP.

in•ter a•li•a by At The Drive-In. Courtesy Rise Records
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In•ter a•li•a

At the Drive-In

(Rise Records)

Four stars

Conventional wisdom about the brightest lights burning out the fastest certainly seemed to fit At the Drive-In, whose angular American post-hardcore musical tornadoes came to prominence in 2000 when they crashed the mainstream with breakthrough album Relationship of Command. Less than a year later, they had split up.

The band's tight-trousered, adventurously coiffured dual focal points, vocalist Cedric Bixler and lead guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López, re-emerged leading synapse-squishing prog-rock outfit The Mars Volta. And it seemed that was that for ATD-I, until an unexpected reunion for a run of live shows five years ago. This somewhat overdue fourth studio album – they released two before Relationship of Command's success – is the Texans' full-length return, 17 years on from their last LP.

The formatting of the album title, which translates from Latin to "Among other things", hints at the quintet's long-standing disinterest in conformity. And while picking through the meanings of Bixler's almost always esoteric lyrics has long been a fairly fruitless exercise for those in search of definitive answers, several moments here, notably the singles Governed by Contagions and Hostage Stamps, hint at ire towards the state of global politics.

Bixler maintains his knack for making the strangest of sentences into slogan-worthy chorus shouts – even on Incurably Innocent, where the subject matter is something as deathly dark and serious as the spectre of sexual abuse – over the razor-edged guitar convulsions that came to characterise ATD-I Mk 1.

Incurably Innocent and the likes of Pendulum in a Peasant Dress might even be some of their most commercial moments to date. Granted, daytime radio play is still a way off – but there's certainly none of The Mars Volta's 12-minute wig-out extremes. Few of the 11 tracks approach even a third of that length. Only the penultimate song, Ghost-Tape No 9, takes the tempo down, providing more or less the sole let-up.

It’s a dynamo pace that belies the fact the band are all in their early 40s. What could have been a bloated comeback as they sidle towards middle age is anything but that – it is as wired and urgent as anything they delivered almost two decades ago.

The punk-rock economy and furious intensity within In•ter a•li•a suggest that At the Drive-In still have plenty to say, then, even if Bixler often makes them rebels with a cause that can prove quite tricky to decipher.