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Sparta Porcelain
by Mark Hensch

Five Star: A look at albums that are so good that they impress even the most cynical of critics. Very few albums are superior enough to obtain a five star rating but occasionally a band slips through the river of mediocrity that is the modern music industry and they produce an album that restores our faith in the future of rock! This series is a look at such albums. 

Few bands on the alternative rock scene have such a strange history as sonic rock group Sparta. For those of you older Indie rock fans, you can probably recall the "buzz" band on the scene; At The Drive In. At The Drive In was turning so many heads with their (to this very day) unique and varied sound that many predicted that after The Relationship of Command, the supercharged critical favorites would be signed to a major label and would go down in the annals of rock history as truly great.

Alas, such dreams are often shattered by cruellest irony. Due to inner turmoil within the band, there arose in At The Drive In two factions with very different concepts of what kind of rock should be played. These two factions exist today, inherent in sonic rockers Sparta and prog rockers The Mars Volta. Both have styles at opposite ends of the musical spectrum, Sparta playing frequently derided "safe" sonic alternative rock while The Mars Volta have dropped an insane concept album of maze-like guitar passages and enough styles to fill a shopping mall.

After the early release of both the EP "Austere" and full-length "Wiretap Scars," many felt that the Jim Ward led Sparta faction would be kings of the hill. Those premature critics and fans were astounded when "De-Loused in the Comatarium" was dropped by the TMV, easily surpassing even At The Drive In for unique, artistic vision.

Now eclipsed by the more experimental TMV, Sparta had a lot of tinkering to do with their second album, the aptly titled Porcelain. In an effort to show that they can be as visionary as their former bandmates, the Texas rock outfit took their trademark sound, a sort of swirling mellow to hard wall of sound that is textured and peaceful, and added some interesting new twists to prove they too have relevance.

"Guns of Memorial Park" throbbs in with some dreamy guitar parts, background static, epic wailing effects that are subtle and quiet, and a rhythm section that is tight and varied throughout the song. The bass lines add a little sprinkle of depth to the double guitar layers, and this song is an excellent start, trademark Sparta easily. "Hiss The Villain" is a song that kind of grows on one with each listen. It's a weaker swirling pop rock song at first, but by it's end mutating guitar parts and a understated set of strings in the back add some value to the tune.

"While Oceana Sleeps" is the best sign of what Sparta will probably evolve into, and I must say it's bloody good stuff. It cascades in with a mellow bass line, quiet vocals by Jim Ward (who is probably a very underrated vocalist) and a simply amazing guitar rythmm that sounds like the lapping of ocean ripples on a secluded beach break. At one point the guitars duel in that lapping sound and a melodic solo that is amazing. 

"La Cerca" will make a good choice for a radio single for Sparta, as it is catchy, embracing, and still Sparta. 

First single "Breaking  the Broken" opens with a riff that is kept through the song's entirety, and though it might be a stretch for mainstream attention, this is a standout track that really works. 

"Lines in Sand" is another winner, the sleepy guitar parts, soft drumming, breakout choruses, and classical effects all coming together in yet another good cut. 

"End Moraine" is a hard sonic rocker that might have fit in with Wiretap Scars. 

"Death In the Family" starts of as a mellow, building track before erupting in another solid tune. 

"Syncope" is easily one of the best instrumental, timely, and beautiful instrumental tracks I have ever heard. 

"Tensioning" allows Sparta to take that mellow, sonic, and dreamy sound and turn it into a sinister intro followed by a involved rocker that is personal and powerful all at once. 

"Travel by Bloodline" is a cool groove rocker that is again typical of changes apparent in Sparta's sound. 

"POME" is another fun instrumental that is all drums. 

"From Now to Never" is a strange musical medley of conflicting sounds; it is a oddly workable mesh of mellow, old-school Sparta, and harder-edged newer Sparta. It is also a progression of different melodies; by it's end, Ward is singing over piano effects in a barely audible whisper. 

"Splinters" is an awesome guitar heavy rocker that is an excellent end to a superb album.

I seriously debated for several nights what final rating to give this album. It is every bit as good as Wiretap Scars, if not better, and I don't think I have ever heard a more natural evolution between two CDs from a newer band. Sparta has had an interesting ride, and personally, if they continue down the path they are heading into then we can expect some great things from this band. I am not sure if it stacks up to De-Loused, but it is still a wicked good mellow CD and one that any music fan should take a chance on.

More Info 

Sparta Porcelain
Track Listing:
1. Guns of Memorial Park
2. Hiss The Villain
3. While Oceana Sleeps
4. La Cerca
5. Breaking The Broken
6. Lines in Sand
7. End Moraine
8. Death in the Family
9. Syncope
10. Tensioning
11. Travel by Bloodline
12. POME
13. From Now to Never
14. Splinters

Visit the band's homepage to learn more

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Check out of review of the band's debut CD "Wiretap Scars"

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