Make no mistake about it: Sparta is a band with something to prove.
Although they've sprung from an esteemed lineage that can and will be viewed by many as advantageous, their pedigree also proves to be an albatross around their collective neck -- it virtually guarantees that the phrase "ex-members of At the Drive-In" will follow their each and every move until the end of time. While it's no big secret that Sparta were formed in the silhouette of the aforementioned afro-sporting hardcore behemoths, the fact that they have evolved into a formidable future-leaning rock 'n' roll unit just waiting for the right moment to burst out of the shadows and into the public consciousness seems to be a bit more cloak-and-dagger.
Wiretap Scars opens with the thunderous "Cut Your Ribbon" -- a dynamic call-to-arms that piercingly and intrepidly proclaims Sparta's aural aesthetic. It's brash yet tuneful, angular yet accessible, fiercely experimental yet grounded in the lessons of their punk rock youth -- the sound of redemption from one's past and of the boundless possibilities afforded by discarding it.
While the band's sound isn't exactly the most original noise out there, they deliver with such impassioned conviction that you'll be more than willing to forget a few "sound alike" misgivings; the sweat and vitriol that drips from the Gang of Four-ish "Sans Cosm" is positively electric, while the Cure-ish undertones of "Light Burns Clear" are all but demolished by the song's bullish rhythms and growling guitars. Jim Ward's husky tenor has become a finely tuned instrument in and of itself, full of power and emotion, sending songs like "Red Alibi" and "Assemble the Empire" hurtling into the blood-stained cosmos. Elsewhere, new versions of "Mye" and "Cataract" (both of which first appeared on the Austere EP) sand away the songs' rough sonic edges while retaining their explosiveness and vigorous ire.
Still, for all the respectful hat-tipping that takes place on Wiretap Scars, there are some rather stirring avant-experimental moments, particularly the vastly-reworked "Echodyne Harmonic" and the ethereal, Joy Division-y "Glasshouse Tarot", which demonstrate with great aplomb that Sparta are more interested in pressing music forward than becoming just another fashionably "retro" outfit.
With Wiretap Scars, Sparta have not only made great strides in the progression of their art form; they've also acknowledged the artists who inspired them. That said, the question remains: will Sparta gain recognition on the basis of their own merits, or are they forever to be judged against the accomplishments of their previous employers? Only time will tell.