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Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002




When the hyper art-punk band At the Drive In announced an indefinite sabbatical last year, the members amicably split into two groups.

The Mars Volta has already garnered the lion's share of attention, owing to the fact that it contains ATDI's more high-profile members -- vocalist Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez. But Sparta, which consist of ATDI's Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar, as well as newcomer Matt Miller, sound a lot more like ATDI. This has little to do with the fact that The Mars Volta veered off into prog-rock and Sparta are a more conventional-sounding postpunk band. It's more that Ward, with his scraggly guitar playing, had as much to do with ATDI's unique sound as did its Afro-topped frontmen.

Moreover, Ward has fully commandeered Bixler's manic vocal style.

However the similarities end there. For one thing, Sparta, by comparison, seems unapologetically commercial -- they record for Dreamworks. Produced by Jerry Finn, who's manned the boards for Green Day and Sum 41, Sparta's debut, "Wiretap Scars," is full of taffy-pulling hooks and hugely satisfying punk-metal breakouts. Sparta also gives Cedric and Omar a run for their prog-rock money with a melodic sense that is more instinctively progressive. Their songs contain some dizzying changes, but without resorting to the kind of rib-nudging pretensions that most prog-rockers indulge in. If the dark, semi-sci-fi lyrics sound like something that even Yes' Jon Anderson might have rejected in an opium haze, at the service of such foot-stomping raunch, they aren't bad at all.

Of course, we're still waiting for The Mars Volta's first bona fide long-player (they've self-released a maxi-single, or a short EP, depending on your sense of cost-effectiveness). Considering how high-energy their Tokyo show was in spring, when it arrives it could blow the estimable "Wiretap Scars" out of the water. Then again, Sparta have yet to show us their stuff in concert.

Sparta: Oct. 26, 6 p.m., Shinjuku Liquid Room, (03) 3475-9999; Oct. 28, 7 p.m., Nagoya Club Quattro, 052-264-8211; Oct. 29, 7 p.m., On Air Osaka, (06) 6362-7301. Tickets are 6,000 yen in advance.

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