For the unaware, a tier ranking is a mental circle jerking exercise in the video game community where individuals make a listing of who the best characters are in a specific game. These lists are, for the most part, highly subjective and only applicable to a small percentage of individuals who can maximize the potential of each person.
Despite being a somewhat fruitless endeavor, they can be fun activities in which a characters value is debated in comparison to others, which allows for a deeper understanding of the game. Additionally, since tier lists are fluid, characters move up and down these lists as new information about the game is learned, which can result in lists nearly flipping at the discovery of something new. On the other hand, many of these discussions turn into online fights where people post that “So and So is Fucking OP” to which the response is “no they aren’t, this person is fucking OP and played by scrubs”. Then again, this is the internet so why am I really bothering with explaining why people are terrible.
Today, because why not, I’ve decided to attempt this outside of the traditional realm of video games and instead create a tier ranking for one of the most audacious bands that has ever existed, The Mars Volta. Our tier ranking will be based on a few factors: Contribution to the band, natural raw talent, success outside the band, and other various and asinine traits that will be made up along the way. For those reading at home, I encourage you to leave your own rankings for other groups, and I just might include them in the future.
She once wrote “This part, play with more feeling” on her notes for the band. That alone sums up her merit in The Mars Volta. Her brief appearances in Jane’s Addiction and Lisa Marie Presley’s Band do little to support her credentials.
Long time friend of Omar and Cedric, Ralph Jasso contributed bass for a few months in 2002 while the band searched for a permanent replacement. Ralph had previously contributed some bass work to the early form of Dub Reggae group De Facto too and somewhere in 2008/2009 he was to release an album with Cedric Bixler and Juan Alderete under the title RJ’s Prospectors. Sadly, this never came to be, and his brief stints in both groups also showcase his transient position in rock music. Sadly, Ralph is sitting in prison, meaning his music career is likely dead and gone.
The brief tenure of bassist Jason Lader in 2003 has most casual fans scratching their head and stating “who?”, but his behind the scenes work as a producer have proven he has more valuable chops than one might give him credit for. As a bonus one of the more well-respected bootlegs (in Vienna) features Jason on bass. Lader may never be a household name, but he helped produce some work by Rilo Kiley and that counts for something.
Elitch rounds up the bottom of the list of drummers for having the least impact on the bands history, not being featured on any (as of this date) recorded material, and just not being particularly easy to recollect. David is not a bad drummer, but he just never was the best fit for the band despite his best efforts, and to his credit he did work his ass off to help the band survive during one of its lowest points. Elitch also loses points for not having much of a career outside of the band, mostly filling in for some metal groups as well as Miley Cyrus’s live group briefly, but there is yet to be a band that he has really left a mark in. Fortunately, he has the most potential to move up in this tier list.
Henry may have only played acoustic guitar, very briefly, during some of the band’s 2009 and 2010 live shows (Which is how he gets onto this list), but he was Omar’s guitar tech, which means he made his guitars work and that is really all the argument you need for him not being at the bottom. One may argue that he deserves a higher placement because of this. I’ll leave that up to fan speculation.
Poor Paul, forever doomed to not be heard during live performances as the band’s rhythm guitarist, which prevents us from even knowing what he was contributing. His time as the bands sound manipulator in 2003/2004 as well as being the bassist for the recently reactivated At The Drive-In bumps him up from the bottom, but knowing he was selling his gear on ebay around 2012 puts him close to dropping to bottom tier. Fortunately he has been crushing it during the recent At The Drive-In reunion
Props where due, Pridgen is one of the more iconic drummers for The Mars Volta being present on two of their albums, one of which won them a Grammy. Thomas is also a highly admired member of the drumming community, being featured on a wide variety of albums including work by Jazz prodigy Christian Scott. All of this would suggest a higher placement on our tier list, but his notoriety for not being able to last in bands for a long period of time due to personality issues puts him at the bottom of the middle tier. As a young professional, a change in attitude may help push him further up the list in the future, but great talent is relatively moot if you are unable to properly collaborate with other professionals. Thomas also struggles with eternal flack from the most stubborn of Volta fans who claim he never did Jon Theodore’s parts justice. I’ll leave that up to the listeners though.
Original members get special accolades for being part of the initial success of the band, and while true Eva’s time in the band was short lived she had played a significant role in the band getting their first acknowledgments in 2001. Eva also was the bassist on the band’s Tremulant EP as well as creating some of the bass lines for their first LP, Deloused in The Comatorium. After the Volta, Eva went on to be the touring bassist for pop juggernauts Pink and Gwen Stefani. Eva also has the distinction of being one of the few members of the band who left the group and wasn’t immediately shit on by band leaders Omar and Cedric, and that alone is worth its weight in gold.
Blake never made it onto any of the band’s official studio recordings, but as the original drummer for the band he created the template from which Jon Theodore was able to follow. The two demos that do exist of his work show someone who would have been able to bring the band into the stratosphere. Blake also provided drums for some of Omar’s earliest solo projects including A Manual Dexterity and Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fungus. His monumental drumming chops had been proven before with Flemming’s original math/prog outfits Laddio Bolocko and Dazzling Killmen. Blake would have his opportunity to prove his worth when he toured with the band briefly in 2006. Despite Blake’s ferocious talent he remains stuck in the mid-tier due to his brief stay with the group, his relative lack of recognition, and the alleged stories of him trying to engage in wife sharing while on tour with the group in 2006. His allegedly questionable behavior has been attributed to his quick removal from the group. Blake does have a pretty sweet solo album though.
Jeremy Michael Ward
Ward may have no musical history outside of The Mars Volta and the precursor band De Facto, but make no mistake, without him the ultra surreal sound manipulation and auditory weirdness that is a cornerstone of The Mars Volta would have never existed. While Ward was never able to demonstrate any traditional music skills, his ability to generate haunting moods with a collection of effect pedals and a chaos pad prove his capability of creating huge ideas with very few tools. Although Ward’s signature was only seen briefly in the band’s long career he set a trend for the remainder of the band’s existence that others like Paul Hinojos and Lars Stalfors tried to replicate, but never could quite capture.
Adrian’s value to the band is hotly debated among the fiercest of Volta fans with some stating he was a critical piece of the group and others believing he was completely disposable and just a curious addition for five years of the band’s life. While both sides hold value you cannot deny that his ripping horn work provided a horrorshow jazz component to their already tangled identity for a few glorious years. His dynamic pairing with Omar’s guitar work often meant the two were vying for the high-range in a war of sound. You also cannot deny the sheer glory that was the saxophone and guitar battle of Day of the Baphoments. Adrian could be considered top-tier for that alone.
For those that are unaware, Flea was the recording bassist for the band’s landmark LP De-loused in the Comatorium. This alone gives him a huge amount of clout on this list, but his continued support for the band enabled them to succeed during their lowest points. Sure, having The Mars Volta open for the Chili Peppers in 2006 may have been an odd choice, but it was a choice that kept them infused with cash. Flea’s, outside work is also known worldwide playing for the previously mentioned Chili Peppers, as well as Radiohead side project Atoms For Peace. Flea’s undying love would prove beneficial later on when he would provide bass work for side project ANTEMASQUE’s debut LP.
Lars briefly appeared on stage during Omar’s 2010 and 2011 solo tours as well as when the band was supporting Soundgarden and you would be hard pressed to discern what exactly he was doing on stage beyond looking down at his keyboarding and wondering what any of this was for. Yea, if we look at it that way Lars may seem pretty inconsequential, but Lars’ importance is far beyond his fleeting stage presence. Instead, Lars is critical because of his role as a sound engineer on the last three Volta albums, various Omar solo material, and related side projects like Big Sir and Zechs Marquise as well as mixing Noctourniquet. Lars is the mastermind behind the studio sound and without him its questionable as to how those albums would have turned out. He helped the band add some low end to their mixes when their first three albums were very sparse on bass. He also ensured the mountain of musical information in The Bedlam in Goliath was somehow discernible to the audience instead of one giant regurgitation of noise. Sure, he is no wizard of live performance, but he was a critical component of the band’s later career success.
Marcel has gotten a serious bump over the course of his time in the band due to his evolution from ‘guy with a pair of congas‘ to ‘guy who seemingly does everything not involving guitar, bass, and drums’. In short, Marcel is monstrously adept and a brilliantly diverse musician. His movement upward really came to fruition when he came out from under the shadow during his still devilishly fun bongo solo on Day of the Baphomets, where for nearly a minute he wages war on his little pair of hand drums. From there his presence became more well known as he played a significantly more prominent role int he bands live sound, allegedly (According to him anyway) recorded the majority of keyboard parts in later albums, and eventually replaced Ikey Owens all together. His skills were put to the test as he was tasked with recording and producing the two released LPs of El Paso side-project Zechs Marquise with positive results. Since the end of the band he has been busy working on his own solo material as Eureka The Butcher. Importantly his rise is an indication of a young talent beginning to surface, and The Mars Volta being the venue in which it could be witnessed.
Deantoni is a machine, a brute force cyborg drummer suffering from a multitude of corruptions. His 4/4 patterns splayed into poly-rhythmic explosions of drumming force. Even though his time in the band was brief he played a crucial role in the change of direction the band was experiencing before it was put to rest in early 2013. Even before then, however, he served an integral role in the group as a fill-in drummer for a few months during the band’s darkest period in 2006. After firing Blake Flemming for the second time Deantoni came in to fill in a role without any knowledge of how any of the songs he was about to play were performed. This led to the band playing some strangely iconic shows where they would play an hour long multi-phased jam that is rumored to be a shelved 1 song album. Deantoni’s drumming style is often a hotly debated topic among the die-hard fans with some adoring his drastically different approach to the trap kit and some hating how polar opposite he is to Jon Theodore. Regardless, his new approach was fantastic to watch live and gave one last gasp of air to a band of life-support, twice. Outside the group Deantoni has been known to work with John Cale and Me’shell NdegeOcello and recently he has been performing one man electronic shows as the cyborg drummer Technoself.
Yes yes I know that Cedric is a critical part of the band’s existence and without him we likely would never had a The Mars Volta. It is impossible to ignore these facts and you are right to call this placement a tad controversial, but hear me out and you may see that this is not complete heresy, just slightly. First, for lovers of live bootlegs and recordings, there is no denying that after about 2005 Cedric’s performances became inconsistent at best. He had opted to sing in higher and higher ranges, which was fine for studio recordings where you could retake, edit, and manipulate until the desired effect was achieved, but live he was becoming less and less able to replicate. Credit where credit is due, the man tried, and regardless of the final product he would belt out like he was Tony Bennett and it was his last day on earth. The other point of contention is Cedric’s hand in killing the group, an unforgivable act. First, he played a role in the near 3 year delay of the final album Noctourniquet due to not working the vocals (because I have to have everything NOW damnit) and he was the one to say he was not a member of The Mars Volta anymore, effectively killing them. His tendency for a revisionist history has also tarnished the band’s legacy, as he claims that the band peaked at Frances the Mute and everything beyond that seems to be just an interesting side note. Perhaps he is simply eager to push back the overly demanding fanbase, but his nonchalant dismissal of a lot of fantastic works and previous band members is quite disheartening considering these are albums that deeply resonate with a lot of people. His weakening vocal chops is easily forgivable since many great vocalists struggle with this as they age, but his off-stage sabotage is not.
Isaiah ‘Ikey’ Owens
“Turn up Ikey” is more than just an inside joke for the hardcore fan base, but a declaration of love for the band’s original keyboardist. Ikey Owens, what is there to say except that without him the group’s iconic sound would have never quite existed. His fast fingers created a sense of drama, inserting fastly vibrating notes into the air that hastened the tension in any song. To see him live was a treat onto its own as well, as he would look like he was having an out of body experience as his body often flailed in the exact opposite direction of where his hands were going. It was an honor to see him perform, and a tragedy that you no longer can due to his tragic passing. After not being invited back he became Jack White’s full-time keyboard player and proved how versatile of a performer he was, able to adapt and create that same grandiosity. His side project, Free Moral Agents, felt like they were on the cusp of something great when he passed as well, which lead to the groups unfortunate dismantling. He provided a presence to the group that was sorely missed in the band’s final act. He was a constant source of fun and excitement, a reminder that despite that convoluted lyrics and brutal guitar abuse this as a band to dance to and have fun with.
And now we have a second Chili-Pepper, this time their on-again off-again guitarist who has been an integral part of the band since nearly the very beginning. Consider that John played nearly all the guitar parts on the studio albums from Amputechture to Octahedron as well as providing solos for Frances The Mute and you get an idea of how important John is to the band. His unhinged talent allowed Omar to sit behind the studio mixer and fully realize the works he was trying to create, without hindrance. John would also appear on stage with the band from time to time adding guitar solos or additional support, like in 2006 when Cedric was too sick to perform. In short, without John it is hard to imagine what would have happened to the group early on. His endless support ensured their survival. Outside of The Mars Volta Frusciante’s influences are obvious and endless and do not really warrant repeating here.
Broken (God) Tier
Juan Alderete de la Peña
Aside from Cedric and Omar, Juan is the longest lasting member of the group, playing with them from 2003 until the very end. Not only that, but he clocked in endless hours recording for Omar’s solo albums. To be a consistent member in the band that long is on its own worth endless praise, but it is his actual performance is what catapults him to the near top of this list. His jaw-dropping versatility granted the band the ability to alter its sound and scope through his 9 year tenure. He would easily shift from skull-crushing ferociousness such as during the infamous ‘helicopter jam‘ to mellow fretless crooning during The Widow. Outside of The Mars Volta, Juan has had a varied career ranging from the hip-hop legends Deltron 3030 to the hair metal of Racer X and even the soft and soulful Big Sir. His talent has also taken the form of sage wisdom has he teaches musicians the art of soundcrafting with his website Pedals and Effects. True, most of his outings beyond The Mars Volta have not been major commercial successes, but those who know Juan understand why he is such a big deal, which is what gives him such clout.
Coming in at Number 2 is the mastermind himself. I am unsure what I need to say about Omar that you do not already know. He has been the legend behind a multitude of bands and the source of so much great music. With all that said, you may be wondering why, the person who played guitar for At The Drive-In, and helped create De Facto, The Mars Volta, Bosnian Rainbows, ANTEMASQUE, and who has released a mountain of solo albums, been featured on many other superb projects like El-P‘s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, AND who has released feature length films is not number 1 on our list. The reason is for everything he has not released. This is not in some entitled “I’m sure he is holding out” kind of way, but because he loves to open his mouth and say projects are going, that never do. There are countless solo albums, remix projects, feature films, concert films, live albums, and collaborations that he has claimed are coming out, but never have. Omar’s biggest weakness is his tendency to excitedly talk about what he is working on and never release it, because he has no interest in the consumption of his music by fans. His tendency to announce five projects and only release half of them is a source of headaches for everyone following him. Additionally, there have been talks of him being stingy about paying musicians and being a relatively bad communicator, such as when Ikey Owens found out he was not in the band because he saw they were touring, and not because he was told he wasn’t playing with them. It is all of his strange personal faults that bump him down a notch, not his endless contributions to the world of music and cinema. He is an artist in the most literal sense of the word, someone he seeks to create and develop regardless of the commercial benefits involved, but that is his biggest weakness as well. His inability to see the human component of his works causes him to step on toes and burn bridges because he is concerned about his vision even though he is working with a large group of people. Despite this, he will be featured on ‘best of’ lists for as long as rock music exists for he is currently one of the most unique and influential guitarists that will have ever existed.
Jon Theodore. If you do not understand why he is here at number 1 we have a lot of work to do. Jon, without a doubt, is one of the greatest drummers performing right now. His meticulously tight grooves are the spiritual successor to the ideas and theories laid out by John Bonham and Billy Cobham. His infusion of Caribbean polyrhythmic grooves took any rock band he touched and launched into a dance frenzy. His propensity for drumming in a non-stop perpetual motion style means that there is no rigidness or staticness to his drumming. His patterns and movements are constant, the snare drum his best friend, the bass drum the pulsating heart of his work, and his trash cymbals a gross tag-along. If you want to know why the first three albums The Mars Volta created are often considered a step above the latter half of the band’s career you need look no further. No one could replicate him, some tried, but none could match his fluidness, his bombasity, nor his dynamics. Now, as the drummer for Queens Of The Stone Age he is able to be appreciated by a wider audience, demonstrating why he was the unsung hero of underground acts like Golden during the early 00’s. There is a reason Cedric has admitted that firing Jon was his biggest mistake during the life of the Volta.