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The Mars Volta - Amputechture CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

3.86 | 551 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Fascinating, this. Not a single 5-star review from the official 'prog reviewers' and not much else but 5-star reviews from the rest of us. THE MARS VOLTA really does have the power to divide - and it appears this album was a disappointment to most.

This is the easiest of their three albums to get into. The opening and closing tracks, and the middle track ('Asilos Magdalena') are gentle, though not in the class of 'Miranda' or 'Televators' from previous albums. The real action takes place in the five-barrelled assault of the remaining tracks, which are much more straightforward than some of their previous offerings.

We are given a gentle, almost lyrical introduction, with 'Vicarious Atonement' (the unifying theme here is a critical appraisal of religion) winding up slowly until, at 4:50, chord changes and a swirling organ suggest the song is about to launch ... but instead it detumefies, with BIXLER-ZAVALA crooning 'Don't let these hands/sharpen your eyes.' Then the drums blast us into 'Tetragrammaton', which is remniscent of 'Cicatriz' with its powerful riff and psychedelic breakdowns. I find this track clumsy and overlong, and it signals a sparser THE MARS VOLTA: this album doesn't pack in a million musical ideas per square inch. Maybe just a couple of hundred thousand.

The casual listener will enjoy the hook-laden 'Vermicide': with slower pace, it's oh-so-typical staccato chorus, GILMOUR-esque solo and it's manageable length, it's a good anchor after the too-long 'Tetragrammaton'.

And then the album explodes in an orgy of sound, as 'Meccamputechture' bursts into life with a searing spoken delivery and the most outrageous honking horn hook. This, now THIS, is the real stuff. This track struts, it pounds, it swirls, it intoxicates. Nothing else in the world of rock sounds remotely like this: rhythm against rhythm, swirling guitars, rumbling distorted bass, crystalline vocals. I'll own up and say this song is my favourite THE MARS VOLTA track. The repeated chorus 'Please dismantle' ... to 'Everyone stabs', with its building excitement and kaleidoscopic hammond-like organ - this is IKEY OWENS' track as much as anyone's - lifts the song into the stratosphere every time it appears. 'Humans as ornaments, humans as ornaments ...' As powerful a critique of organised religion as I've come across - and this from a former pastor. The change of beat after the second chorus heralds a fabulous battle between horn and guitar, ended by the crescending drums. The bass continues to rumble magnificently. Just how did they think of that sound? And what FRUSCIANTE does with his wah-wah guitar in the third (doubled) chorus is sensational. This track is already a winner, worth the price of the album and more, but the finish is just genius, with a full-on psychedelic freakout (is there nothing they can't do?) leading to a restatement of the honking opening theme with the best keyboards I'm ever likely to hear, a LED ZEPPELIN-like duel between OWENS' organ and BIXLER-ZAVALA'S voice. Flat out the best song I've heard since 1975. When I saw them do this live earlier this year I almost ... well.

Whew. 'Asilos Magdalena' separates the five power tracks, a gentle Spanish vocal and guitar which gradually morphs into a shockingly sinister piece, its electronic distortion heralding the arrival of the giant riff of 'Viscera Eyes', the album's single. Again, like 'Tetragrammaton', I can't help feeling the ideas here are drawn out a little further than in previous albums. Great horns, but that riff outstays its welcome. When the song changes shape after six minutes it comes as a relief: when have I ever thought that of a THE MARS VOLTA track before? Accessible, but ultimately dispensable. I liked them better when they underused their ideas, when a riff or chorus disappeared before I got used to it, when I had to play the album again and again ... A great FRUSCIANTE guitar solo closes this song out - come on JOHN, you're wasted in the CHILI PEPPERS, join this band full time, you know you want to. Bring FLEA with you.

'Day Of The Baphomets' rescues the second half of the album. Beginning with a wonderful bass riff that raises the hackles on your neck, this track reminds us of the creativity these fellows have in spades. Listening to this is like cavorting with demons (literally, given the title). Were I still in the church I'd be sprinkling holy water all over this, so rich and redolent of the occult is the imagery of this song. 'El Ciervo Vulnerado' bears us gently down (or, more likely, up) to mortal lands, and the experience is over.

Not as powerful as the first two THE MARS VOLTA albums, 'Amputechture' still packs more energy and power in its grooves than anything else released in 2006. It is a five-star album to me, but a merely mortal effort, rather than the superhuman albums of their early career. I'm torn: 'Meccaputechture' and 'Day Of The Baphomets' are essential listening. Ah, it's only a number. If I only give it four stars the ground isn't going to open up and swallow *argh*

russellk | 4/5 |


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