Review Summary: Amputecture is an excellent addition to the Mars Volta's discography. It represents a somewhat quieter sound with less ambient noise, a decision controversial amongst fans.
This album is an excellent choice for unconditional TMV fans, but is not rec4 of 4 thought this review was well written
Amputechture is the third studio album by The Mars Volta, one of the most popular new bands of the progressive rock scene. The new album, written on the road during their 2005 tour, is a swirling mix of angular guitar riffs, soaring vocals, frantic drumming and warbling saxophones. According to Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the album is the first to stray from the concept-album format that the band utilized on its first two albums (2003’s Deloused in the Comatorium and 2005’s Frances the Mute). Bixler explains that the eight songs are several separate vignettes being told through a common voice.
Track by track:
1) Vicarious Atonement (7:19)
Amputechture starts off with “Vicarious Atonement,” a slow song that features the harmonized guitars of guitarist Omar Rodriguez and John Frusciante (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). The introductory guitar solo glides over the sonic landscape provided by new sound effects artist Pablo Hinojos and keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens. Towards the end of the song, woodwind player Adrian Terrazas enters the mix, treating us to an avant-garde soprano sax solo reminiscent of John Coltrane. Amputechture is the first Mars Volta album to prominently feature Terrazas, who debuted on Frances The Mute and has toured with the band ever since. In its final seconds, “Vicarious Atonement” descends into musical chaos, with several layers of ambient effects gradually building up around Terrazas’ wailing sax until it abruptly switches to the next track.
2) Tetragrammaton (16:41)
“Tetragrammaton” starts without warning, which is not at all unusual for the typical Mars Volta album. What I found most impressive about the first few seconds of Tetragrammaton was the machine-gun drumming of former drummer Jon Theodore (who has recently been replaced with ex-Laddio Bolocko drummer Blake Flemming). The introductory shred-fest soon gives way to Bixler’s mind bending poetry, which, as far as I can tell consists of combining obscure medical terms with obscure mechanical terms. For example, in “Tetragrammaton,” Cedric sings “The kiosk in my temporal lobe is shaped like Rosalyn Carter.” Umm…sure it is, Cedric. Despite the fact that his lyrics make absolutely no sense (which adds a pleasant certain surrealist sense to his cryptic symbolism and obscure allusions), Cedric is no slouch in the vocal department, where his falsetto voice perfectly accompanies the jarring sound of the rest of the band. One complaint that I have with “Tetragrammaton” is that the song switches movements abruptly, whereas in the past, we listeners would’ve been gradually transferred between sections with ambient sound effects, or at least a shrieking blast of guitar noise. The abruptness between songs is the only thing that keeps me from declaring this album a masterpiece. Many of the song transitions are abrupt and do not flow, often ending in the middle of a bar of music.
3) Vermicide (4:15)
“Vermicide” is by far the shortest song on the album, and has recently been released by the band as a single. Like their previous single, “The Widow,” Vermicide is a short, concise piece which is the closest thing to a conventional “song” on the album. The band plays very well on this track, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t receive much radio play, as it is truly one of the highlights of the album.
4) Meccamputechture (11:02)
“Meccamputechture” follows the single “Vermicide” and is very different from the songs that The Mars Volta usually puts out. For instance, there is very little guitar work on this song. However, the band uses this song to make use of synthesizers, various studio effects and tape loops, which have not played such a major role in their songs. The horn parts on “Meccamputechture,” arranged by Rodriguez, add a certain ethnic flair, which is common throughout the album. The song also benefits from the effects-laden bass lines of Juan Alderete. The only part of the song that is truly hard on the ears is the very end, which ends mid-measure and confusingly transitions into the next song, a slow acoustic number.
5) Asilos Magdalena (6:34)
Out of the chaos of “Meccamputechture” comes “Asilos Magdalena,” an acoustic ballad sung in Spanish. The slow, plaintive melody of the song is downright haunting, and the ambient noises and sound effects towards the end only add to the macabre atmosphere of the song. This song serves as a nice segue between the two “halves” of the album, and also as a chance for the listener to catch their breath.
6) Viscera Eyes (9:23)
With “Viscera Eyes,” the album descends into its epic craziness once more, rapidly enveloping the listener with a memorable riff that seems to recall Frances the Mute’s “L’Via L’Viaquez.” Actually, I managed to draw several similarities between these two songs; both have two basic sections, one of which is straightforward rock n’ roll (or at least as a straightforward as The Mars Volta can be) and the other is a groove which draws direct influence from Latin music styles. Also, both songs feature the guitar work of John Frusciante and tend to be some of their catchiest tunes.
7) Day of the Baphomets (11:56)
“Baphomets” starts off with a mind blowing bass solo from veteran shredder Alderete, who cut his teeth in metal bands such as Racer X. In this solo, he seems to emulate the jazz-rock styles of the late Jaco Pastorius, of whom Alderete is a self-professed fan. If any of the lyrics “Baphomets” sound familiar, it’s because Cedric recycled some of them from a previously unreleased Mars Volta song. “Baphomets” also prominently features a percussion solo by Omar’s brother Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, which takes the listener by surprise. However, I look forward to it every time I listen to the album.
8) El Ciervo Vulnerado (8:50)
Finally, the album comes full circle. “El Ciervo Vulnerado” is another slow song with searing guitar work, which is built over a dissonant soundscape of Alderete’s slow bass line, Hinojos’ sound manipulation and the faint buzzing of a sitar. Cedric nearly whispers his lyrics on this song, which adds to the abysmal atmosphere of the song. Unfortunately, the song ends mid-bar, much to my annoyance, as I would’ve preferred a gradual fadeout to an abrupt silence, which made it seem like the album finished prematurely.
The hotly-anticipated Amputechture will not disappoint avid fans of the Mars Volta, though some of them may be surprised by the toned-down amounts of ambient noise throughout the album. While it is still quite prevalent, those who disliked Frances for the amount of ambient noise between songs will be pleased with the restrain displayed on Amputechture. However, I wouldn’t recommend Amputechture to those unfamiliar with The Mars Volta’s music, as that would be better left to an earlier album.
(THIS REVIEW IS PUBLISHED UNDER MY HANDLE AT PROGARCHIVES, WHICH IS TIRESIAS. I APOLOGIZE FOR THE UNDOCUMENTATION, WHICH IS AGAINST FORUM POLICY)