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Sparta - Wiretap Scars Album Cover

Sparta - Wiretap Scars

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8.5
Sparta - Wiretap Scars
Record Label: Geffen Records
Release Date: August 13, 2002
The story of Sparta is an oft told one; when trailblazing hardcore rockers At the Drive-In self destructed at the height of their fame, the remaining members formed two new very distinctive bands. Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar, and Paul Hinojos created Sparta, a band with deep roots in the original post hardcore sound of their father band but with a more anthemic feel and influences from 70’s-80’s rock bands. The giant afros of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez focused their musical talents on The Mars Volta, a hugely experimental band fusing elements of jazz rock, progressive, and neo-psychedelic with just a touch of their aggressive punk past. These two bands have been polarizing new and old At the Drive-In fans ever since. Both bands are so stylistically and fundamentally different they almost act as each other’s opposites. So considering the substantial history involved, it is not surprising that Sparta’s debut album, Wiretap Scars, caused a considerable amount of curiosity, and when the record was released, about a year and half after the death of At the Drive-In, it naturally caught a few people off guard. The band’s roots in At the Drive-In are definitely apparent on the album, complete with raucous guitar shredding and frantic screams combined with just a touch of experimentalism, but Sparta took that sound and expanded it to create a more anthemic and melodious sound. With this curious blend of 80’s hard rock, hardcore insanity, and melodic earnestness, coupled with the very strong instrumentalism and Jim Ward’s mostly excellent introspective lyrics, Sparta created an album that is refreshing, dynamic, and accessibe.

With its cookie-cutter vocals and raucous guitar shredding, the album opener “Cut Your Ribbon” is probably the least effective song on the album, perhaps because it sounds like the band is trying too hard to recapture the past. However, “Air” demonstrates a dynamic shift of epic proportions. Tinged with a U2-esque vocal melody and old school guitar riffs and hooks, “Air” does an excellent job of establishing Sparta’s newer, more thoughtful and classic style. “Mye” is another move from At the Drive-In's playbook, although perhaps with Sparta’s own interpretation. “Mye” is a track with a lot of dynamic energy, especially on the chorus where crashing percussion blends with churning bass and Ward’s frantic screaming, “This time I’ll get it right / You can’t defend it / It’s predetermined." “Collapse” is perhaps the most melodic and methodical track on the record, particularly on the verses, where the guitar eases along with Ward’s voice, complete with some of Ward’s best lyricism. The song has an epic quality to it, especially on the end of the second verse with the music growing and revving up for the chorus with Ward’s earnestly singing, “You know when he falls apart / He listens in the dark / To the records turn / I’ll never learn.” “Sans Coms,” much like “Mye,” is a hardcore anthem, moving along at a blistering pace on the first two verses and chorus before easing into an instrumental breakdown leading to the crescendo. Right from the opening guitar melody of “Light Burns Clear” it is the obvious that the dynamic shift has resurfaced; the song would be a toe tapping sing along anthem were it not for the blistering chorus. The final chorus especially is one of the heaviest moments on the album; here Sparta go all guns blazing with heavy guitar shredding, booming bass lines and Ward’s screaming vocals before easing and fading out.

“Cataract” demonstrates all the best elements of Sparta’s music. The electronic percussive effects at the start sets a very distinctive atmosphere, the guitar melody is fantastic, and the lyrics are some of Ward’s best. “Cataract” moves along at a steady pace before revving up big time for the chorus, complete with an old-school guitar riff, heated percussion, and Ward’s loud, powerful vocals. The song has a wonderful dynamic feel, shifting between loud and energetic, and melodic and methodical. “Red Alibi” begins with an almost metallic opening guitar riff before easing into an almost pop punk verse, which in turns grows in a chunky chorus. “Rx Coup” starts with a melodic verse but quickly accelerates when it hits the chorus, one of the heaviest and most epic moments of the album with Ward’s massive screams of, “This tunnel vision breaks my mind / Dark days leave this world behind.” The song is easily one of the most aggressive and fastest tracks on the album, which in turn sets up the more melodic and slower paced “Glasshouse Tarot,” a song full of long atmospheric instrumental stretches. The clicking percussion over a softer guitar riff blends well with Ward’s earnest voice and lyrics. The instrumentalism on this track is particularly strong. From the strong melodic guitar rhythms to Tony Hajjar’s drum work, everything sounds excellent. “Echodyne Harmonic” is perhaps Sparta at their most composed and methodical. Complete with piano rhythms, acoustic strumming, and Ward’s easy crooning voice, the track is a far cry from the band’s more raucous past. The song does build to a strong more powerful crescendo before easing out with more piano melodies over electronic effects. The album ends just as it began: all guns blazing. “Assemble the Empire” hits hard and fast, and it is probably the song that most resembles the band’s former work in At the Drive-In. The song builds to an impassioned crescendo with heavy guitar shredding over Jim Ward screaming “slow down,” perhaps a tribute to Radiohead.

Wiretap Scars is not an album that is, did, or is probably ever going to be trailblazing. Unlike their Mars Volta brothers who pushed the boundaries of music to a breaking point, Sparta took their former At the Drive-In sound, used it as a blueprint, and evolved it, creating a more tuneful and majestic feel while at the same time retaining the dynamic energy that At the Drive-In perfected. The music is not a complete departure from the band’s former work; “Cut Your Ribbon” and “Assemble the Empire” could have easily been b-sides from Relationship of Command. Wiretap Scars is certainly an interesting record. The full on explosiveness of “Cut Your Ribbon,” “Mye,” “Rx Coup,” and “Assemble the Empire” blends with the softer more sombre tones of “Glasshouse Tarot," "Collapse," and “Echodyne Harmonic” almost perfectly. However, where the music really shines is when the band takes their two sides and fuses them into a single track. “Air”, “Light Burns Clear,” and especially “Cataract” do this the most effectively. Wiretap Scars is probably not an album that should be judged in the same light as At the Drive-In’s work. While similarities are indeed present, Sparta’s newer sound deserves to be praised on its own terms. The music should be accepted for what it is - an album of straight up pure emotional rock music from a band that has grown comfortable with who they are. The album is not instantly accessible for At the Drive-In’s old fans, and the most die-hard Mars Volta fans will probably hate it, but Wiretap Scars is an album that is appealing to anybody who loves rock in its purest form, with plenty of dynamic shifting and passionate instrumentalism.
This review is a user submitted review from BrokenMirror. You can see all of BrokenMirror's submitted reviews here.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 12 of 12
09:16 PM on 12/15/07
#2
Adrian Villagomez
My Little Runaway
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Strong release date.
03:00 AM on 12/16/07
#3
BrokenMirror
R.I.P. Richard Wright
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03:14 AM on 12/16/07
#4
Adrian Villagomez
My Little Runaway
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August 13, 2002 = My seventeenth birthday.
03:22 AM on 12/16/07
#5
BrokenMirror
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August 13, 2002 = My seventeenth birthday.

aaahh

nothing to say about the review then?
03:26 AM on 12/16/07
#6
Adrian Villagomez
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aaahh

nothing to say about the review then?
If it were a review for a new album, I'd say it's too long. But this is a retrospective piece, so people would probably like to read what you think about the individual tracks. Personally I've only heard "Cut Your Ribbon" off this album, and I very much enjoy it, so I disagree with your thoughts on that track. It would be cool to see you tackle The Mars Volta's first album... it would be sequential.
03:30 AM on 12/16/07
#7
BrokenMirror
R.I.P. Richard Wright
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If it were a review for a new album, I'd say it's too long. But this is a retrospective piece, so people would probably like to read what you think about the individual tracks. Personally I've only heard "Cut Your Ribbon" off this album, and I very much enjoy it, so I disagree with your thoughts on that track. It would be cool to see you tackle The Mars Volta's first album... it would be sequential.

i dont dislike Cut Your Ribbon, its just the rest of the album is better IMO. still everyone likes different tracks; you like Rolodex Propaganda, i like Pattern Against User. different strokes and all that

as for a Mars Volta review, Deloused in the Comatorium anybody?
07:31 PM on 12/16/07
#8
Anton Djamoos
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I love love love this album, but Threes trumped this album in spades. "Cataract" is an incredible song, as is "Light Burns Clear" and "Collapse". This was one of the first albums that I really became emotionally attached to and "Assemble the Empire" is a decent song on the album but live...it's unreal.

"Vacant Skies" should have been on this album.
05:37 PM on 12/17/07
#9
ryanator
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I picked this album up after hearing Threes. Great album.
10:07 PM on 12/22/07
anamericangod
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I love love love this album, but Threes trumped this album in spades. "Cataract" is an incredible song, as is "Light Burns Clear" and "Collapse". This was one of the first albums that I really became emotionally attached to and "Assemble the Empire" is a decent song on the album but live...it's unreal.

"Vacant Skies" should have been on this album.

I haven't listened to Threes, in fear of being too disappointed, as Wiretap Scars is beauty to me. I might have to change that...
10:27 PM on 12/22/07
Anton Djamoos
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I haven't listened to Threes, in fear of being too disappointed, as Wiretap Scars is beauty to me. I might have to change that...
It's very good. It's like Wiretap Scars with a Radiohead influence and better mixing.
02:30 AM on 12/23/07
BrokenMirror
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yeah ive given Threes a few spins but im not really into it yet. give it time and im sure i will be. for the sake of being sequential ill probably play Porcelain first, but ill get to Threes. im really starting to love this band

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