Written by: PP on 30/11/2006 15:09:42

It's strange how fantastic some bands can be and yet still not much attention is paid to them. Sparta, the other half of the At The Drive-In break up, is one of these bands. Both their debut "Wiretap Scars" and their sophomore effort "Porcelain" contained more of the uncontrollable restrained power and energetic post-hardcore possessed by At The Drive-In than their experimental afro-half The Mars Volta. As the rock 'n roll side of ATD-I, Sparta has delivered some unforgettable songs stuck in between of screaming and scratched singing in form of "Glasshouse Tarot" or "Hiss The Villain". Some of these songs on the two albums deserve to be mentioned as some of the best music created this decade, and why so little attention is paid to this fantastic El Paso based act is a mystery to me.

On "Threes", however, Sparta seems to be taking a slightly wrong turn. The reviewers have a deeply divided opinion about the album, with some stating it is the band's best material, and others calling it their worst. Both of these stands can be argued for and seem, paradoxically, valid at the same time. Artistically, the arrangements have become more complex and challenging, the production has increased, and tracks like the first single "Taking Back Control" tell the story of a band who has matured and finalized their own sound. But on the other hand, the unforgettable melodies are few and far between, which gives some ground for the people who dislike "Threes" as well. "Crawl" being one of these few diamonds, quite literally crawls forward with vintage Sparta guitar riffs refusing to conform to what's trendy, and Jim Ward's vocals have the same scratched, restrained-energy texture to them in the chorus as on many early tracks in "Wiretap Scars".

As we all remember, At The Drive-In was one of the most passionate bands since the history of music began. This was also evident on "Wiretap Scars", although maybe not in as great extent as on "Relationship Command" for instance. And this is the main problem of "Threes". The band members sound like professional musicians, and the passion has diminished from the tracks. The outbursts of uncontrollable energy straight from Ward's soul are missing, even if the domineering chorus of "Erase It Again" challanges that statement. It's kind of like "Threes" has turned Sparta into a job for the band members. You know how it is when you get a job: The first couple of months and in some cases even years you're in it 100% and everything is exciting and you're almost a workaholic, but soon thereafter it becomes 'just a job'. That's essentially what has happened here, and one can't help but listen to songs like "Atlas" and wonder what the hell happened. The song sounds flat and boring, as the layered screeching guitars don't bring the attempted power across very well, and the build up towards the middle of the songs falls on its face instead of developing into an outburst of energy it aims at. The new guitarist Keeley Davis of Engine Down fame has internalized the sound of Sparta's guitars surprisingly well, but he fails to actualize the strength-meets-subtlety Paul Hinojos was able to do on tracks like "Glasshouse Tarot".

As the album approaches the end, it becomes more distinctly clear that the band has lost much of the passion that was driving them in the early days. The melodies aren't as mindblowing and memorable any longer and sound dumbed down when considering the musicians in the band. So I'm going to place myself in between the two extremes and say it's an average album, which still sounds unmistakably like Sparta, but less like the Sparta majority of the fans would like them to sound. "Threes" certainly won't help them in any way to get rid of the most underrated band of this decade label. Refer to earlier material and prepare to bewildered by its brilliance!


Download: Crawl, Red.Right.Return (Straight In Our Hands)
For the fans of: Engine Down, Cave In, At The Drive-In
Listen: Myspace

Release date 24.10.2006
Hollywood Records

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