The Bedlam in Goliath by The Mars Volta.
The Mars Volta is a progressive rock band that came out of El Paso Texas, primarily made up of 2 members. Lead guitarist, producer and band director Omar Rodrigues Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala, who was the groups lyricist and lead vocalist. You also have other band members that we will talk about through the story.
The album we are talking about today, The Bedlam in Goliath, was released in January 2008 as their fourth studio album, but the path to release was a nightmare for everyone involved. It all started 2 years prior, in 2006, when Omar took a trip to Jerusalem for inspiration for the band next album. While exploring his surroundings, he happened upon a small shop of curiosities from the area, filled with antiques, mementos, and at first glance looked like just another shop for tourist. However, upon closer inspection, they also sold sacrilegious items and artifacts. Omar was drawn towards a very old ouija-type spirit board, but not like one of them toyrs r us carboard things. This was made of wood and inscribed with texts in ancient languages. Omar purchased the board as a gift for his band mate, Cedric, and brought it back to the states. They hired two translators to decipher exactly what the messages were on the board.
The first translator looked at the board, and swiftly returned the money and said that he wanted nothing to do with that board or the band ever again.
The second translator didn’t transcribe the text word for what, but he said the messages were written as if they were songs or chants, and that the band would find out what it meant soon enough. Cedric was going through a really bad bout of writers block at this time, and Omar hoped this would maybe be an opportunity to get some inspiration. They weren’t wrong..
At the time, they were on tour with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the board quickly became apart of their after-show ritual. Cedric called the board The Soothsayer. The more they used the board, the more information they got from the spirit held within it. They were contacted by an entity called Goliath, who presented in three different forms: A Man, A Woman, and a young girl. Golaith would give the band stories, names as well as make demands.The demands started pretty innocently, a bottle of rum here and some flowers there. The more they met the demands, the more material they were given. As Goliath was sending messages, Cedric was using them to write most of the music that makes up the album. A lot of the songs are based directly on those messages, specifically the interpersonal relationships between the 3 identities that made up Goliath. The sessions with the board became more and more frquent, and we know if supply is low, and demand is high, the prices go up. Goliath knew that too, and as more and more music was being transcribed, the more severe the demands got. To the point of Goliath directly rewuesting to switch places with someone outside of the board so that they could roam. Omar and Cedric refused, and this is where everything really starts to unravel. A plague of bad luck swept over this band in close succession, so here is a shortlist of things I could find:
- Their drummer at the time, Blake Flemming, quit the band in the middle of tour unexpectedly and left them in a really bad financial position.
- Cedric suffered a freak foot injury that was so severe he later had to have surgery, and re-learn how to walk.
- Their bassist, Juan Alderete, was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.
- Omars studio flooded not once, but twice, and suffered multiple power outages at random times throughout recording.
- Audio files would dissappear in the midst of a session, as they were actively working on them.
- The engineer who was working on the album had a complete mental breakdown, saying directly to Omar, “I’m not going to help you make this record. You’re trying to make me crazy and you’re trying to make people crazy.” The engineer stole the tapes and files they had worked on thus far, and they were only retreived when the band hired someone to break into the mans home and get them back to complete them. I’d like to add here that he didnt know anything about the board, as it was only used in private writing sessions and kept on the low.
Now Omar had reached a breaking point. They had cycled through studios, engineers, drummers, and a laundry list of paranormal phenomena that put everyone in a bad position. Omar had been raised in a family that practiced Santeria, a spiritual religion originating from Cuba. He decided to make a plan to rid themselves of the bad luck brought forward by the board. The first thing he did was take the board to an unknown remote location, break it in half, wrap it in cloth and bury it. He then considered scrapping the album entirely, and starting with something new, but came to the conclussion that what they really needed to do was combat the negative energy with positive energy within the music compositions. Towards the end of 2007, He returned to the studio with a new engineer, Robert Carrannza, and a new drummer Thomas Pridgen. The three of them, and Cedric, then began a three week stint in the studio. They would record no more than 3 takes an hour, as a way to juice out every bit of material. They took what had been created so far, and Pridgen started incorporating upbeat rhythms with Cedrics traditional Santeria lyrics that he believed would act as a veil of protection over the band and the album. The idea was that any bad luck that had come through the soothsayer into the music would be cancelled out by the later additions to the album.
The album was finally released on January 29th, 2008. It was very successful for them, and they did many interviews about the creation process and all of the madness that ensued. They even sold a ouija board planchet reminscent of the board as merch. The band continued until 2012. Omar and Cedric would have a falling out, which Cedric said was “4 years in the making.” They now make music separately, and the tale of Goliath is forever solidifed in music history. There are of course many skeptics in the world, and a lot of people didn’t buy the story. Claiming it was either a publicity stunt or the band on drugs. I have two counter-points on that. The first of which being that they were sober at this time, as years prior to any of this happening they had a bandmate pass away from an overdose and had been clean ever since. regarding it being a publicity stunt, it’s possible, but the actual physical ailments and process of this album being created were not fabricated. The floods, the accidents, the production was very well documented even by people who never knew about the board itself. I suggest you go listen to the album, and you tell me what you think. Could a work like this have been written without the help of a powerful spiritual entity?
Many fans of The Mars Volta regard this as their favorite album, and while I was deep diving on reddit for information for this video I came across a very curious post I’d like to share just for some thoughts. A year ago on a subreddit called r/shadowpeople, a woman shared a peculiar story which just so happened to involve this album. The story takes place in Canyon Lake, Texas.
“My ex’s parents were divorced and they awere in the process of selling this house that they had lived in when my ex was a teenager. It was nestled in the hill country off the road. It was pretty isolated, and their was always a strange energy to the house. Almost like you could feel it breathing. Like it was alive. The hill country surrounding the home was filled with an inexplicable darkness and quiet at night that was eerie. It felt like we were being watched. One particular instance, my ex, my friend and I were hotboxing the car and listening to The Mars Voltas The Bedlam In Goliath. Things got pretty intense for us, to the point where we all felt like there were groups of shadow people standing at the edge of the woods next to the driveway watching us, surrounding us. The moon was bright and you could see the blackness of the tree line, the shapes of the people almost visible. We all fell really silent out of nowhere, until my friend stated that we should go inside. We all agreed, the energy was almost stifling at that point.”
The post goes on to talk about more experiences on the property, I’ll link it at the end of the article if you’d like to read for yourself. First of all, no one but Omar knows where the board is buried. Not sayings its on that property but ya never know, just a thought. But really what got me was maybe it’s not about where the album is buried, but where its being played. Perhaps when Omar broke the board and buried it, he gave Goliath got the escape he had demanded at the beginning, removing the spirit attachment from the band and sending it to the masses through the distribution of the album itself. I guess you’ll just have to play the album, and find out for yourself. Just be careful, you never know who’s watching.
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