Review Summary: A very Visceral, intense experience that is hard to define. obvious jazz influences and prog bands such as yes, but no real genres for this, and truly innovative and a massive improvement on the very good debut album.
As I recently bought The Mars Volta’s latest offering, Amputechture, and was less than impressed, it made me want to go back to this album, and it is currently one of 3 cd’s on rotation in my cd player. The others being Siamese dream, and relationship of command (I might review that if im feeling brave). This is only my third review, and I feel it is a bold attempt so please be kind. Any to business, this is the mars Volta’s second album after their critically acclaimed debut, deloused in the comatorium. The band line up for this album is as follows-
Omar A Rodriguez-Lopez
Juan Alderte De La Pena
Isaiah Ikey Owens
John Frusciante also makes a guest appearance on the song L’ Via L’ Viaquez, and flea makes a guest appearance on The Widow, and Miranda that Ghost just isn’t holy Anymore. Various other musicians also play on this album, but as talented as they are I don’t have time to mention them all. Mars Volta blend together there love of the alternate with free jazz, prog rock, and Latin, to create a unique and individual sound, that they seem to scrap after every album, and start from scratch again. This shows obviously the desire to be creative and innovative.
The album starts with the four part song Cygnus….Vismund Cygnus. Part 1(Sarcophagi) starts with a Latin style guitar piece, with Cedric’s vocals coming in after about 20 seconds or so. Just these few subtle vocal lines shows the improvements in Cedric’s voice for me. After about a minute of this piece, the full band enters in crazy Mars Volta style. I don’t like to call The Mars Volta Post Hardcore, because there so much more diverse than that, but they still kind of bring that from their At The Drive-in days. There is there is a fantastic part in the part 2(Umbilical Syllables)where the drummer is dictating syncopated stabs, whilst doing semi quavers on the snare. It then goes into what I believe to be part 3 (Facilis Descenus Averni) and goes a little slower paced, and more into the yes influenced Prog sound with Mars Volta can be quite proficient, without overusing. Part 4 (Con Safo, which is also returned to later in the album) brings the song down, without vocals, and from there it continues with strange electric percussion and sound effects, and eventually the sound of cars driving until the next song.
The next song on the album, and the ONLY choice for single is The Widow. This song starts with some layered acoustic picking, and very melodic fretless bass, with well controlled vocals, before breaking into the heavy chorus. This song is the only real conventional song, which is why it was a great choice for single. It is structured verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge x 2, then chorus. In the first half of the bridge Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) plays a small trumpet solo, then in the second half of the bridge Omar plays an amazing blues/neo shredding solo. This song shows off Omar’s diversity, from his acoustic finger playing, to his power guitar chorus, and his technically brilliant solo. For the outro, Cedric plays some weird mouth instrument(im not sure what this instrument is, but it has small keyboard style keys on it)and then a sound that doesn’t sound dissimilar to someone flicking through pages of a book can be heard for about 30 seconds until L’Via L’Viaquez kicks in.
This song has a strong Latin/Mexican feel to the groove, and starts off with some fantastic lead guitar (played by the Chillies John Frusciante). Cedric once again shows off his lyrical diversity by singing some of the song in Spanish(I think!!)and some in English. Cedric sings the verses in Spanish (I hope im write!) and the Latin sounding bridge, consisting of a jazz style piano and bongos, in English. After 2 of each there is kind of an interlude, where he sings in Spanish, where the band keeps building and building, and then he changes to English. And then various drum fills can be heard until it reaches the bridge once again. This time he has various effects on his voice, of which Cedric is very proficient. This bridge section repeats over for a while, whilst Omar solos over the top of this, changing from using a plectrum and fingers very smoothly . After a while of Omar soloing, a piano solo can be heard, then returning to the guitar solo. This continues for a while until it eventually fades out and Cedric is left singing un accompanied with strange effects on his voice, and sort of ringing in the background.
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore is another multiple part song, to which there is an epic build up to a massive grand final. The first part of the song (Vade Metum)lasts around 4 minutes, and is just a range of sounds and noises made by using various effects on voice etc. A dis-contorted trumpet can be heard, and eventually it goes to the right note, it sounds like its being bent up like an out of tune bend on guitar(that’s my interpretation being a guitarist), and when this trumpet goes in tune it signifies the beginning of part 2 (Pour Another Icepick). Cedric’s vocals enter in this section over the top of mildly distorted guitar and subtle percussion, and continue until a second chorus , and then a middle 8 appears where electric percussion builds tension, until it climaxes in a glorious version of the chorus with convictional drumming, and harsher guitar, with the trumpet still following the first word of every line. The last word ‘obey’ signifies the end of part 2. Part 3 (Pisacis(Phra-Men-Ma)) is an instrumental piece that has a short free jazz trumpet solo, with subtle strings that can be heard , and this lasts for about 3 minutes, until part 4 (Con Safo) slowly fades in, but remains very quiet.
Cassandra Gemini starts off with some crazy guitar work from Omar in Part 1 (Tarantism) with some high pitched vocals from Cedric over the top of this jazz style lead guitar. It then quickly moves from the intro into the verse, which starts off a little less chaotic, yet still manages to capture the essence that something isn’t right. Omar’s rhythm section again is very jazz influenced in this section, and Cedric has another effect on his voice which makes it sound like that of an other worldly being. After 4 bars of this effect he goes back to his high pitched singing over the same rhythm section . This verse section ends with a crazy sounding free jazz style saxophone solo. A chorus then enters with a very technical rhythm, with the drums once again dictating the syncopated rhythm. It then moves into another section, which I think is part 2(Plant A Nail In The Naval Stream) but im not sure as there 12 tracks on the album, and only three more parts to this song, help!! This section starts of in a free jazz style, and is very loosely based around anything, and seems to be largely improvised, or played to that effect. After a while, it goes into a descending chord progression, which leads you into a false sense of security of a big climax, but instead keeps teasing you with free jazz improvising. Again Cedric’s vocals are heard clearly over this, and Omar takes solos here and there. The rest of this song continues in such fashion that is hard to predict, and I am struggling to write anymore for this as my brain is about explode thinking too much about this album at 1 30 am!!! It ends how it started with the Sarcophagi.
Overall a mind blowing experience, very hard to digest the album in one go. Must be given time to fully appreciate the musical diversity and virtuosity on display here. I am a huge fan of At The Drive-ins Relationship album, but this is much more diverse than they ever did. Don’t let the single drag you into a false sense of security, and this album is Mars Volta’s best to date, and probably the best prog album of the new millennium. Still waiting for that definitive album off The Mars Volta, but they go dam close with this.
Fantastic Lead Guitar and solos
Much improved vocals
Great all round musicianship from everyone
A giant leap forward from their first album, which was also very good
Sometimes a little over indulgent
Very hard to listen to entire album in one sitting
At The Drive-in fans probably wont dig this
I don’t understand the language he sings in!