Wiretap Scars, the debut release from the El Paso based band, fuses punk, emo, metal, and rock, molding genres with screaming force and furious energy into a monolith described simply as "Sparta."
The live version is no different.
And that's both good and bad. Bad in the sense that it lacks improvisation and variance, experimentation and fluidity - the stuff music is made of. Good in that the intricate interplay between musicians in Wiretap Scars is not sacrificed. Like the London Symphony Orchestra (circa 1975…yeah right.) performing Bach, no complexity is omitted in Sparta's act, giving the audience a near duplication of an album with few flaws. That too, is the stuff music is made of.
The fellas in Sparta are stand-still performers for the most part, but the boiling energy stored in their stagnant bodies shoots out through their music in violent bursts. Punch a whole in the pressure cooker. Stand back and watch the dam burst.
Though many of the drones in the audience came not for Sparta, unanimous allegiance was solidified by the end of their set. It's not only that Sparta towers in musicianship over the other bands, but they don't hide behind heavy distortion or indistinguishable chords. Every instrument plays an intricate role - due to the collaborative creation of each song. Bassist Matt Miller compared this process to an arduous blacksmithing job. "You have to hammer and hammer, and keep working it and working at it till you get your desired piece." The result is music nothing short of volatile alchemy.
Songs like "Air" are typical complexities of Sparta. Beginning mellow and straightforward, but by the time the chorus hits the neat, ordered piece is in abstract disarray - heaviness and odd-timed measures, shouting and screaming. And then, once again, calm. Its effect? Eardrums on edge - waiting, wanting for the next turn. Miller deconstructs: "It's easy to write a straight-up four/four tempo beat…You try to change it up to where you're interested in yourself, because I mean, we have to play it."
The highlight of the night was "Cataract," a song similar to "Air," but more. More what? Better hooks? Livelier melody? Greater emotion? All of the above, even without comprehension of that statement. "Cataract" lives up to its name, gushing intense feeling, cascading lost desire into a five-minute opus of metallic lubrication.
"Cut your Ribbon," the opening track on Wiretap Scars, is reminiscent of At the Drive In material, exploding and simmering with equal vengeance. Ward's vocals, backed by Paul Hinojos, have the fresh lung ferocity of a baby brought into this God-for-saken world against its will. He wants to go back into the womb, and he's going to let us know about it.
Near the end of the show, "Glasshouse Tarot" has drummer Tony Hajjar working like hired help. On the album, the intricate play between high-hat and snare seems obsolete - just another nifty rhythm. In performance, Hajjar displays deft precision to execute the complex combination of beats. It's a display of raw effort and pure drumming talent, shoving commonplace out the door killing the seemingly obsolete.
And killing the obsolete is what Sparta is all about. They do it again and again, finishing the set and destroying our assumptions of what music is supposed to be. All within an hour.