Upon first inspection, Amputechture
should have been The Mars Volta
's best album. It did everything right. It cut down on the overdrawn ambience featured in Frances The Mute
and the chaos present in Deloused In The Comatorium
, and instead added what they are known best for: noodling guitars, screeching high vocals, 10+ minute tracks, and indecipherable lyrics. In fact, before hearing the CD, I was planning on writing a very positive review on the CD. However, halfway through Tetragrammaton, I turned the music off, tired of listening to the CD already. That's right. I couldn't even get through one quarter of the CD upon first try. And I was puzzled. "What happened? Why couldn't I listen to the CD?", and, above all other questions, "What did The Mars Volta do wrong?"
Although it's difficult to blame myself in my inability to fully explore the record. It’s not as if the Mars Volta are opening their musical arms and beckoning me in with Amputechture. In fact, if anything, they're trying to keep the doors from opening more than a crack. Vicarious Atonement
could be described as the proverbial bouncer to the club that is Amputechture, keeping out those not ready to experience the prog-explosion to come. It's basically a 7 minute song that moves at a pace so slow and laborious that first-time listeners might just give up halfway through the song. That’s not to say it's a bad song. The song is definitely solid, using TMV's signature blend of noodling guitars, sweeping ambience, and Rush-esque tight vocals well. The main problem with the song is that it just tries to drag on the introduction to the album too long. This 7 minute ballad is fairly good, but would have been far more effective at a different spot in the album.
could be considered a prize to listeners who survived Vicarious Atonement (or to those who skipped past it, looking for a song that won't put them to sleep). Length-wise, Tetragrammaton can be described as no less than epic, clocking in at a mind-blowing 16+ minutes. While the length of the song might turn off some immediately, the song actually begins very solidly, with one of the coolest and most structured riffs on the album. While the Mars Volta have a tendency to let their songs get out of their own hands and become giant prog-rock nightmares, this song (for the first six minutes) manages to remain in control, and proves just what the Mars Volta can do: write epic progressive music.
Tetragrammaton is basically three tracks combined into one. The first part runs for almost six minutes, and is possibly the most solid display of talent the Mars Volta have ever given. The song contains everything a good prog song should, and featuring some new things to TMV, including ending vocals that would cause Freddie Mercury to suggest the lead singer loosen his pants. This is also the first song to use the band's new alternate style of vocals, which are featured on the chorus. They are squeaky and odd, but for the most part, they fit well. At 5:50, the song changes to the second part of the song, which is slower than the first part of the song, and contains a darker, echoing ballad sound. The main flaw in this part of the song is that it's just not very interesting. After more repeats of the chorus, we are treated to part three. The final part of the song mostly consists of TMV trademark noodling and an experimental jazz orgy. Yes, experimental jazz. This long overblown musical section kills any mood the song might have been setting up to that point.
The rest of the album goes through waves of powerful hard hitting prog-rock and dry self-indulgent religious mumbling. It's hard to comment on the rest of the album, because, frankly, I don't really care too much about it. Sure, Vermicide
is a beautifully solid song that manages to stay under 5 minutes long, but it eventually becomes stale and uninspiring. By three minutes in, the song has dissolved into another chaotic section that screams "Hey, look, this song has vocal effects!" but nothing else. Althought compared to some of the other songs on this CD, Vermicide is actually a decent track. Meccamputechture
starts off with a silly little rap, and begins fairly harmlessly, but after a while, we start to see through the mask of the song, and realize that it's just a repetitive 11 minute song that even lacks the basic musicianship that make TMV who they are. The drawn-out saxaphone/ambience section starting around seven minutes in is actually painful to listen to. "It lack a human pulse"? It lacks a goddamn sense of direction!
The album basically continues as thus. Asilos Magdalena
is a quiet Spanish ballad that goes on too long for its own good. The song could easily have been ended four minutes in, but instead continues on for another two and a half minutes, and add in some irritating vocal effects that will make you wonder whether these headache-inducing sections in each song are purposeful. Viscera Eyes
is the first single off the album, but it moves at a pace that wouldmake molasses blush, make this nine mintue song feel even longer. At the very least, the song contains somewhat coheesive musicianship, unlike most of the songs on the album, which end up going off on in random directions half the time. Once again, the band drags out a decent song too long, and end up making their own songs collapse upon themselves.
Day Of The Baphomets
is probably the standout for me, because it manages to actually be listenable. The song is creative, and manages to take all the things that The Mars Volta stand for and use them well. Everyone performs beautifully on the song. Well, everybody but one person: Cedric. Yes, the lead vocalist, the lyricist, one of the driving forces of The Mars Volta, falls on his face on the song, and more noticeably, the entire album. While on previous albums his voice was a highlight, this time his voice wrecks the mood of the songs half the time. He tries too hard to hit blaringly high notes, and doesn't incorporate the emotion that De-loused (or even Frances) had. His voice just grates on all the wrong nerves, and is one of the reasons this album doesn’t live up to expectations.
While TMV have been known for epic ending tracks (Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt, Cassandra Gemini-Sarcophagi), this time they produce what may possibly be the worst song they have ever created. El Ciervo Vulnerado
is slow, dull, grating, flat, boring, annoying, and goes on like this for nine minutes. There's not enough actual music on this track to consider it a real song, except for hints of unfinished guitar lines and repetitive saxophone blaring. It's mostly sweeping ambience that doesn't end up sweeping you up. Even the sitars don't help the song. It just winds on, and on, until it finally, and suddenly, ends. An unsatisfying end to a mostly unsatisfying album.
Considering the expectations I had for this album, Amputechture
is a disappointment on so many levels. Besides DOTB, there really isn't a standout track, because all of the songs suffer from so many glaring weaknesses. I loved De-loused, and even Frances had its moments. Amputechture seems weaker than both albums on almost all levels. It could have been the highlight of The Mars Volta’s career. To me, Amputechture is just a sad reminder of what could have been.