The Mars Volta - Amputechture
Where do you start with a Mars Volta review? Comments on them being one half of the infamous At The Drive-In have been said and done whilst their tendency for prog-rock operas and over long, complicated songs, titles and albums have been mentioned, moaned over and discussed at great length over the internet and paper press. All I'm going to comment on is the music. And, in the case of Amputechture, how good it is.
One thing that can't be levelled at The Mars Volta is a lack of vision. Each song bristles with invention and is crammed full of influences and ideas. Sometimes this does act in their detriment, Tetragammaton outstays it's welcome for a couple of minutes during its sixteen minute meander through picked chords, brass and chugging bass lines. Though some of the more upbeat moments are impressive and foot-tapping, the sparse "interlude" towards the end could have been cut out without losing anything from the song.
Though they're still forging away at the dark, harsh frontline of music, this is by far their most accessible work to date. Most of the songs here follow a structure and their inherent jam's and breakdowns are more controlled and involve the infusion of other instruments, like a brass section, rather than just guitars, keyboards and drums.
The record beginnings slowly, ponderously as it picks its artistic journey through their odd but articulate worlds. Although there are only eight tracks on offer here, the running time nears the 80 minute mark and three songs clock in at over 10 minutes. The most impressive of these is Meccamputechture with it's 70's prog influences in your face as the high pitched guitar riffs squeal from your speakers, a little bit of saxophone augmenting the mix. None of the lyrics make much sense to my keen ears, but the vocals of Cedric Bixler-Zavala somersault and howl through each of the songs like a man possessed.
The best part of this record though is the three closing epics of Viscera Eyes, Day Of The Baphomets and El Ciervo Vulnerado. In fact, Viscera Eyes could be the best song that The Mars Volta have ever produced - tight, funky and full of chunky riffs which sound like they've got ADHD as it changes its direction in some wild circular motion. It doesn't matter that you have no idea what Cedric is warbling on about, the music and production sucks you in, shakes you around and throws you back out again. Sublime. Day of the Baphomets might not be as funky as the previous track, but it has a pace and energy to match it. More straightforward guitar riffs permeate it, the drums skittish in their playing whilst the occasional sonic boom of guitars right down the centre break down the more standard parts of the record. It then descends into a percussion-mad finale with drums, bongos and practically anything that makes a sound being beaten within an inch of its life as the guitars circulate and Cedric's vocals go in for the kill...
Whilst this might not live up to the heights of their debut in consistency terms and the slow opening doesn't quite suck you into their world as fully and as quickly as you'd like, their invention and way in crafting music is still to be praised and supported. This isn't quite up there with TV On The Radio's latest offering in experimental rock music, but this is still an album that deserves a place in your collection.
You can listen to some of the tracks on their Myspace page.