I feel an intensely personal connection with the mighty Texan punk band At The Drive- In. Let’s go back through the fog shrouded mists of time- October 2000, to be exact. I was up late on a school night, listening to the Barney Simon show on 5FM, trying to record songs from Radiohead’s Kid A onto cassette tape. Without warning, I was suddenly hit with a blast of guitars and a passionate singer hollowing unhinged lyrics about space stations and scalpels. It was my first introduction to ‘One Armed Scissor’, off their third and final album Relationship of Command. It took me months to track down the actual album, and when I finally did it helped to bring on early onset tinnitus with my incessant listening. That band meant everything to me. They came out at a time when rock music was in a dire state, dominated by nu-metal cretins like Limp Bizkit and easy listening dullards like Travis. In such a bleak time, ATDI were a shining beacon of hope. They were unabashed in their love of brash hooks and guitar abuse, but their William Burroughs inspired lyrics retained a powerful enigma. Much of this derived from their home town of El Paso, at the border of the US and Mexico, with one member telling Spin Magazine in 2000 ‘ it’s the dichotomy of a Third World Country and a First World Country living together, breathing together, separated only by a bridge.’ Viewed from 2016, their lyrics seem elliptically prophetic, painting a barbaric desert of prison camps, killer machines, masked judges and whispered threats. A perfect soundtrack for a time in which wealthy countries and indivuals are trying to violently fortify themselves against social crisis.
In their initial heyday, ATDI were hailed as the next Nirvana, a group who would break out of the US underground on a massive scale. In reality, by late 2001 they had broken up amidst personal acrimony and drug problems. But like Nevermind did a decade before, their work proved a key portal to discover other subterranean punk and post-hardcore bands. Over the years, I have met many friends who share the same formative experience. The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
But after a brief reunion in 2012, they have released their first song in sixteen years. ‘Governed by Contagions’. It comes out swinging with ragged guitars and Cedric Bixler-Zavala now wailing about narcs on every corner and cannibalism. While not an earth shattering release in itself, it leaves you hungry for more of their untitled fourth album, set to drop next year. At The Drive-In broke up at the absolute pinnacle of their powers, but dark historical irony means that they may be even more relevant in 2017.