Armed with tempo changes that would stump the Riddler, and a throw back sound that owed a lot to the 80’s hardcore scene, At the Drive-In wasn’t a rip-off. In there short time, they managed to define a genre (Post-Hardcore), and take it to new levels never quite heard before. Their unpredictability in tempo changes, genuine guitar melodies, and unique Bixler-esque lyrics made ATDI the most intriguing band of the late 90’s and early 00’s.
The band formed in 1993 with the musical union of Jim Ward and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Shortly after the band came together and set out and toured across Texas, obtaining a huge underground following. Eventually the band toured more of the western United States, and after playing a killer show for nine people in Los Angeles, the band was signed to Flipside records.
Armed with a label, the band recorded their first album Acrobatic Tenement for the low, low price of $600. The easiest way to describe the album would be to call it an eminent explosion. Tenement would lay the ground work for what ATDI would invariably become. Similar to a bomb, the album was short, clocking in at around 32 minutes.
Bixler-Zavala’s tiger like ferocious vocals, combined with the dual guitars of Jim Ward and Omar Rodríguez-López complimented each other well. 80’s hardcore classics like The Stooges, Danzig, and Fugazi rear their ugly heads, especially on tracks like “Schaffino,” and “Communication Drive-In.” This resulting blueprint would go on to fuel the Post-Hardcore movement, lending it validity and an edgy sound.
When it came time to record the follow up, In/Casino/Out, Flipside records didn’t have the cash to front it. Enter, Fearless records, the label that would go on to release their last few projects.
All three of ATDI’s albums show perfectly, the evolution of a band. From it’s basic beginning, ATDI had a compelling sound, but with a little polished production on In/Casino/Out, and later Relationship of Command, the band would take on a new direction.
The opening track of In/Casino/Out, “Alpha Centauri” sets the tone perfectly for the album. The chaos and explosion from Tenement seems more controlled here, and in doing so, more dangerous. “Shaking Hand Incision” is the album’s masterpiece; to this day there has never been a more creative use of feedback, not to mention the guitar riff is inflictive, like that of a knife.
There is also toned down rockers that you didn’t see coming either, such as “For Now…We Toast” and “Hourglass.” Latin American themes also became more prevalent in this release, and would later go on to fuel much of The Mars Volta’s material as well.
Before ATDI’s next full release, the band released the EP known as “Vaya.” Released in 1999, “Vaya” essentially bridges In/Casino/Out with the album released directly after “Vaya,” Relationship of Command. This EP’s unique sound garnered new followers, but most of all, it felt like ATDI fully came together as a band, and embraced what it does best. It also showed how they could take their raw energy, and turn it into a polished product. “198d” is the EP’s most emotional and compelling song on the record; it details drummer Tony Hajjar’s grandmother and the mass grave she was put into in Lebanon.
More than a year later, and greatly anticipated, At the Drive-In released Relationship of Command on the Virgin record label. Command is ATDI’s masterpiece; it’s utterly flawless and from the first track “Arcarsenal,” your jaw will be dropping. It’s clear that the band gained control over the explosion and have used it to their advantage. The texture of the album could be described as a really fine sandpaper, meant to polish and not ruffle feathers. The first five songs alone are worth purchase. “Invalid Letter Dept.” will have you in tears, watch the music video, and you will understand.
When all seemed to go well for At the Drive-In; the band broke up in March of 2001, citing an “indefinite hiatus.” From the split two bands formed including Cedric Bixler-Zavala & Omar Rodríguez-López’s The Mars Volta, and Jim Ward and Co.’s Sparta. Recently though, the band announced a reunion at this year’s Coachella music festival. While no other announcements have been made on that end, ATDI fans will jump at the bit to relive this once great band!