At The Drive-In – Relationship Of Command (Reissue)

Only a minority of albums can claim to be well-and-truly timeless, but At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command can not only claim such an indelible impact – it can claim to be the zenith of the post-hardcore genre. Produced by Ross Robinson (Korn, Sepultura), the album portrays musicians in complete musical synergy. This 2012 re-release features two powerful bonus tracks, as well as three previously unreleased live recordings from the band’s 2001 set at triple j’s Live At The Wireless.

Album opener Arcarsenal foregoes any attempt to brace listeners for an audible assault on the senses, choosing rather to consume its audience in chaotic walls of sound driven by edgy guitar riffs. The powerful yet articulate drum work of Tony Hajjar; the intricate yet edgy guitar lines of Omar Rodrí­guez-Lí³pez and Jim Ward; the dynamic vocal strength of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and the vibrant bass rhythms of Paul Hinojos are all immediately on display. The melodic punk aesthetic of Pattern Against User maintains the energy of such a bombastic opening, yet also highlights the tremendous use of dynamics seen throughout the album.

Lead single One Armed Scissor remains a standout track; the song’s catchy guitar and vocal hooks form a memorable and powerful aesthetic in which the band maintains a balance between adrenaline and reserve. Bixler-Zavala’s cryptic lyrics create an eccentric narrative frame which is aggressive, surreal and emotive.

The sombre piano-centred intro of Invalid Litter Dept. becomes enveloped in spacey guitar lines and vocals which resemble a vitriolic poetry reading. The narrative is built up terrifically well, and is expressed through powerful riffs and emotive vocals. The dynamic range of Bixler-Zavala’s voice is highlighted beautifully; he recites, he almost whispers, he screams. Iggy Pop makes an appearance as the kidnapper on Enfilade and the song’s sharp and almost metallic guitar swells create a distinct tone and a powerful punk swagger, as the chorus’ emphatic line – “freight train coming” – is repeated to create a beautifully agitated ambiance.

Quarantined opens to the sound of rain and thunder. With a forceful bass line as its backbone, the track places emphasis on robotic guitar tones and figurative lyrics – most notably “A virus conspires / Push becomes shove / Days become months / I seem to have forgotten the warmth of the sun”. Crisp piano lines return to balance the dynamics, yet are overcome by a wall of swirling high-pitched guitar.

The first bonus track, Extracurricular, is a heavy and uptempo riff-driven track which switches between being simply heavy and being strangely funky. The second, Catacombs, begins with a spacey shoegaze intro, before being shred to pieces by erratic riffing and tremendous changes in momentum. The three live recordings – Arcasenal, a ten minute version of Quarantined, and of course One Armed Scissor – are tremendously raw and passionate. In hindsight, some of the album’s potency was lost in the industrial recording process, but this does not downplay the continuing significance of the album itself.

Relationship Of Command remains a triumphant representation of controlled chaos; the album is feral and bombastic, yet also poetic, shiny and progressive. The bonus tracks on this re-release reinforce the shocking amount of power the album still possesses; the trojan horse on the album’s cover is symbolic of the album itself. Bixler-Zavala’s ability to squeeze a ridiculous number of syllables into each phrase is seen by some as pretentious and over-worked, like the pages of a Pynchon novel. However, it is the intense power of this technical skill, evident throughout the LP, which takes advantage of the album’s flaws to create both emotional intensity and narrative intricacy.