Perception of Sparta will, for the present anyway, inevitably be linked with At the Drive-In. The history of At the Drive in, essentially 2 albums, 2 eps and countless gigs worth of being ignored, 1 album of immense (though deserved) hype, and an incredibly drawn out implosion, means that attention will be lavished on Sparta. And it already has been, due to the fact that it comprises mainly of 3 ex-members of At the Drive-In, minus Cedric and Omar (lead singer and guitarist, or the ones with afros if we want to discriminate).
So whilst hype has moved on, having to leave the now defunct Texan band behind for retro bands playing old music in a more stomachable manner, Sparta are still going to have a pretty much readymade "underground following. From these three songs, however, they deserve it. Their music appears to maintain the eclecticism that lifted At the drive-in above a lot of the emo/post-hardcore scene, but if anything a greater sense of frailty comes across in these three songs, a more epic then lo-fi sound in this return from El Paso.
Air begins with an incredibly ambient opening, the sound of wind and astral keyboard tones behind sparse vocals and quiet guitars. The chorus explodes into a heavy yet joyous sound, the guitars coming to the forefront in a wall of noise. If anything this song sounds like a song off of "Acrobatic Tenement", but with the subtle electronic edge and balancing between yearning and growling vocals this song seems more complex and somehow more uplifting, as opposed to the melancholic anger evident in much of At the drive-in's work.
The Host takes these elements but creates a more desolate feeling, the vocals this time despairing and the tones, coupled with piano, creating a sense of coldness within their dream-like ambience. The song is much slower in pace, the howls and blips emerging out of the song, the song fading out.
Cut your Ribbon is far more upbeat then the other songs, and even menacing, the jangly guitars at the beginning giving into a screaming "wake up, can you hear me" "there's no running, I will find you" from vocalist Jim Ward, whose style bears not surprisingly a great resemblance to Cedric Bixlers. Even this threatening sound is combined with a much more melodic chorus, "how can you sleep at night?". Perhaps the most relevant insight into this band can be found in this song, a breathy and distorted voice questioning: "Do you expect martyrs?"
Sparta may not be as obviously vitriolic as the band from which they came, but there is a lot of depth and a lot of promise in this, only their demo. The songs are as eclectic and exciting as anything At the drive-in have done, and whilst their sound may not be as harsh, it is a credit to see them do something both this exciting and far away from a carbon copy of previous achievements.
8Chris Owen's Score