Art-rock band The Mars Volta are known for being abstract and obscure, but the band's fourth album, The Bedlam in Goliath, is especially out there. That's because, if their story is true, it's partially written by a malevolent spirit.
The Bedlam in Goliath story is one of a strange gift and spiritual meddling, as it all began with a fortune-telling game guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López purchased for lyricist and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala. As they played with it, a sinister story began to emerge, with consequences that convinced the band there was a nasty spirit influencing their lives.
The Bedlam in Goliath - the resulting cursed album - is one of the band's most interesting. Its dark lyrics and haunting music are matched by moments of levity intentionally put there to balance the album's eerie energy. If any band can pull off a demonically influenced album, it's The Mars Volta, and the backstory behind The Bedlam in Goliath only enhances its unique nature.
The Mars Volta's contact with the spirit called Goliath began through a spirit board, but it wasn't a Ouija board. Omar Rodríguez-López purchased it from a curio shop in Jerusalem for Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and it was something the band hadn't seen before. They called it "The Soothsayer." The band didn't get into all the creepy atmospherics most people do when using spirit boards. Instead, they played with the lights on, and at first assumed they were responsible for the planchette's movement.
But as Bixler-Zavala began to write down what the board said, things turned sinister - he believed the spirit had became aware of what he was doing and wanted to stop him.
According to the band, the spirit board, which they called the Soothsayer, connected them with an entity named Goliath. This spirit may have been made up of three total figures - a man, a woman, and her daughter - that were involved in an abusive relationship. The hostility these spirits felt may have manifested in the strange experiences the band had during and after their conversations.
Bixler-Zavala said the male spirit would often talk over and suppress the voices of the two female spirits, which became part of the inspiration for the album.
While examining the board, Bixler-Zavala found poetry hidden underneath a decal. He tried to hire a translator - it was written in languages like Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic - but the first one quit, giving the band their money back and refusing to have anything more to do with them. A second translator did translate the poetry, much of which had a sing-song tone, like nursery rhymes.
The translator didn't explain what it really meant, though, telling the band they'd "figure it out in time."
The Mars Volta began using the Soothsayer during their 2006 tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. During long stretches with nothing to do, they would bring out the board and chat with Goliath. It was also a way to escape from the crowds, who often asked the band for passes or other favors to get closer to the headlining act.
With Bixler-Zavala experiencing a creative dry spell, the spirit board provided artistic stimulation as well as an escape from boredom.