reface: For the sake of the Sparta, I’ll refrain from mentioning the name of that band in my review. When I say that band, I am referring to the now defunct band which has now spawned Sparta as well as The Mars Volta.
The consensus among fans of that band is that the Sparta faction of that band – Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar - did most of that band’s songwriting. Austere’s similarity to that band’s last albums, Relationship of Command, pretty much confirms this sentiment. And herein lies the problem: Sparta hasn’t quite found their identity yet, instead choosing in the meantime to fuse the sounds of Fugazi and, well, that band with subtle, Warp-influenced electronic sounds. It sounds less original than it sounds.
To further complicate things, Sparta isn’t even trying to sound like that band. On the driving post-hardcore track “Mye”, a song that would fit perfectly on Relationship of Command, Jim Ward shouts “This time I’ll get it right/You can’t defend it, it’s predetermined” and follows up with “You’re caught up in the memory.” If those lyrics weren’t obvious enough, I’ll put it in layman’s terms: Sparta wants to seen as Sparta, not as “ex-members of that band.” The songs “Vacant Skies” and “Cataract” go down a musical path similar to that of the first track, with the latter emphasizing melody and the former returning to DC-esque post-hardcore goodness. The only thing that really separates these songs from any three songs by that band is that these songs are fairly sober and arranged – no vocal or musical freakouts here unlike in the music of that band.
The real standout track here is the fourth track: the electronic, almost post-rockish “Echodyne Harmonic.” Although it may not be the strongest track on the EP songwriting-wise, it shows another side of Sparta – the side of Sparta that not only wants to be seen as its own entity, but actually is its own entity. “Echodyne Harmonic” is undeniably the most interesting offering on Austere as well as the only track that is undeniably Sparta. If I want to listen to and enjoy nostalgia, I’ll listen to first three tracks. If I want to listen to and enjoy Sparta, this is the song worth coming back to.
Sparta is not quite Sparta yet, but this EP shows both the desire and, in the case of the final track, the musical prowess needed in order to establish their identity. The music on Austere is enjoyable, but the important point here is that it shows Sparta’s unrealized potential: the potential to be an enjoyable, innovative, and truly memorable band. Yes, those shores aren’t out of reach.
Reviewed by: Nnamdi Ezeife
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01