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The Mars Volta - Amputechture CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

3.84 | 535 ratings

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Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars The release of TMV's fourth studio album is drawing nearer and nearer, but I - a confirmed fan of the band - hadn't yet got round to reviewing their third studio offering - an album that, like the two before it, rarely leaves listeners totally indifferent. TMV are a band that can command passionate love and equally passionate hatred. Like a 21-century ELP, they are unabashedly self-indulgent, gloriously pretentious, utterly over-the-top in their perversely obscure lyrics, their intriguing, vaguely disturbing artwork, their highly eclectic approach to musical composition that shamelessly blends prog with other, often contrasting genres. Together with Porcupine Tree and a few other bands, they are considered the blueprint for modern prog - though, unlike Steven Wilson's crew, they have never felt the need to deny their allegiances. They are that odd creature - a band who have achieved mainstream success in spite of trying their best to be as inaccessible as they could. How can prog fans not love them?

All jokes aside, "Amputechture" is probably TMV's most mature album to date, even if to these ears it's not the blistering, ground-breaking masterpiece that "De-loused in the Comatorium" was. It contains all the trademark features of TMV's output, from the zany song titles to the heady mix of musical styles and textures. Though not a concept album, unlike its predecessors, it does come in a way full circle, at least in a musical sense. Indeed, opener "Vicarious Atonement" and closer "El Ciervo Vulnerado" share the same nature of slow-burning, intense, ambiance-laden songs, where Cedric Bixler-Zavala's distinctive vocals get a chance to shine, and prove to the prog world that he is much more than a post-hardcore screamer. Being a longtime fan of Rush's mighty Geddy Lee, I never had any trouble in getting into Cedric's vocal style. He can indeed be called Geddy's legitimate heir: an acquired taste to some, but a man who can surely sing.

All the album's tracks but one are over 6 minutes in length, with three of them exceeding 10 minutes, thus avoiding the overkill that was "Cassandra Geminni", with its 32-plus minutes filled with assorted noises. As a matter of fact, the noise quotient in "Amputechture" is kept to a bare minimum, while the melody quotient is definitely upped - not just in the two songs previously mentioned, but also in the unusual "Asilos Magdalena", where Cedric plaintively delivers his Satanic-tinged, Spanish lyrics to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, and in "Vermicide" (the shortest track, also released as a single), with its catchy chorus and spacey guitar lines.

The three longer tracks, "Tetragrammaton", "Meccamputechture" and "Day of the Baphomets", are less easily digestible and need to be listened carefully to be appreciated - TMV don't pander to those who need background music in their lives. If you wanted to be hypercritical, you could say that sometimes their 'epics' sound like sonic crazy quilts, made up of different pieces patched together without any apparent plan. However, the same could be said of some of the undisputed classic of Seventies prog ("A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", anyone?). All the three tracks feature liberal use of horns, angular, sometimes positively dissonant riffs, complex, wildly veering rythms and slower, atmospheric breaks. Just like in their previous albums, strong jazz, psychedelic and Latin influences are quite noticeable, while the manic energy derived from the band's hardcore punk roots has been tempered and matured.

It can't be denied that TMV are not everyone's cup of tea, and hopefully they will never be. Challenging and in-your-face, they are probably the most authentically progressive of the new bands, bar none. While the naysayers will continue to have a field day every time a new album is released, those with an open mind will be waiting for new surprises from this abrasive, uncompromising, yet incredibly exciting band. Long may they reign.

Raff | 4/5 |


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