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The Mars Volta - Amputechture CD (album) cover

AMPUTECHTURE

The Mars Volta

 

Heavy Prog

3.87 | 556 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The third full album by Mars Volta is a very dense album, hard to penetrate because of the extreme amount of music going on throughout most of the release. The lyrics are very cryptic, the vocals are somewhat extreme and the music is complicated, dissonant at times with melodies playing against each other and a lot of experimental and improvised solos, sometimes played at the same time. But with some time and patience, your brain will start to make sense out of all of it.

The closest comparison I can think of that many will be familiar with would be 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' by 'Yes' which is also their hardest album to access. A lot of this is for the same reason. On both this album and Yes's album, you won't really understand everything, because there is so much going on. Dividing the songs up into subparts, like Yes did on 'Close to the Edge' makes it easier, but on ''Oceans' they don't do this, so you just have to sort it out yourself. The same is true with 'Amputechture'. One advantage here though, is that there are a few shorter tracks which are a little more straightforward, even though they can also be quite involved. I found the best way to approach this album by Mars Volta is to find a lyrics site and try to follow them. This gives some insight to the music and will help you in dividing the longer songs into subsections.

After the first few listens, I thought I would never understand this album, but soon I noticing returning themes in the vocals and the music. Also, reading the lyrics will help you locate the returning themes thus helping you analyze what you are listening to. This album's main theme is how religions can affect society, mostly in negative ways. Knowing that is a good start.

The first track 'Vicarious Atonement' is a good start to the album in that you get a good sense of how the rest of the album will be sounding, but it doesn't have the multilayerd wall of noise that you will get later. The song is more mid tempo which also helps. You will notice that the lyrics are hard to understand, but knowing the theme of the album will help shed some light. Next up is the 16 minute epic track 'Tetragrammation'. The music in this track is quite dense and without any help, can make you think that you will never understand it. The song is full of rhythm changes, hard to follow melodies, impossible to understand lyrics, and counterpoint solos going on among the instruments during the many instrumental breaks. The subject of the song is the torture and exorcism of a Romanian woman who was thought by a small congregation to be possessed by a demon, when in reality she was mentally ill. The congregation tied her to a cross and left her overnight with the parish leader thinking this would exorcise the demon. In the morning, she was found dead. The lyrics in this one were made up on the spot and not read from a pre-written lyric sheet. The band wanted the feeling of the vocals being similar to 'speaking in tongues' as this mentally ill woman was doing during her torture, which explain the tone of the lyrics and the way they don't make a lot of sense toward the middle of the song. There is also sections of the vocals that are treated to give the singing a 'possessed feeling'. Of course you get a lot of excellent performances from the other members of the band, plus a lot of rapid fire drumming. There are quieter breaks throughout the song, many of them sudden and unexpected. This song is an absolute masterpiece of progressive music.

After this often chaotic track comes a more accessible one called 'Vermicide'. This one to me is the weakest on the album, but it gives a short reprieve to the heaviness of the two long tracks that come before and after it. 'Meccamputechture' comes next and runs for over 11 minutes. This one deals with the use of saints or holy figures as pieces of jewelry or on clothing items, or in other words what is known as Iconography, using 'humans as ornaments'. Again this one is quite dense, but is built similar to the 2nd track with many passages with a lot of things going on all at once and other quieter passages. But I find this one is a little easier to follow as far as where the subsections are. There are once again sudden changes in mood and style with hardly even a breath or a pause between them.

'Asilos Magdalena' is completely sung in Spanish and accompanied mostly by a Spanish sounding guitar, but with non- traditional melodies. It's not until 4 ' minutes in before this changes and things seem to get more chaotic towards the end. The translation to English reveals that the lyrics are still quite hard to understand. The subject of this song is about the Roman Catholic asylums that were created to rehabilitate fallen women. 'Viscera Eyes' contains both Spanish and English lyrics, both equally confusing, but well sung regardless. This one is actually based off of a repeating riff in the percussion and bass section, so it seems more structured, but the other instrumentation over the top of this repetition is still complex as well as the vocal parts. This repeating base changes after more than halfway through to another riff which then repeats to the end with all the complexity going on around it.

After this, we return to form with 'Day of the Baphomets' which is about a group of cult members invading the homes of Christians with the hope of getting them to realize their way of life is wrong. The methods they use are strange which includes stealing their items and kidnapping their children. I told you this was the dark side of religion. The same style is used on this as on the other tracks over 10 minutes on this album, excellent progressive styles with what seems to be everyone soloing at once. You also get a sax added in to the mix. Very nice sounds and textures are used throughout this track. Last of all is a very slow and more ambient style track called 'El Ciervo Vulnerado' which means 'The Wounded Shepherd'. Even though the title is in Spanish, the lyrics are all in English. This is a very dark sounding, brooding track. It deals with how religion can get into your mind and how hard it is to completely lose it later. It also deals with the second coming and how the narrator is not going to be saved.

All through this album you get sudden solos, sometimes played at the same time and other times on their own, this also includes some percussive solos. There are some interesting sounds played on the instruments along with more traditional styles and some of the vocals are treated and some are not. I can pretty much guarantee most people will not get this album on the first sitting and probably not even on the tenth listening, but if you give it time and patience, you will get it. This is also how I felt with 'Tales from .Topographic Oceans' (and, by the way, with 'Relayer' also by 'Yes',which is why I make the comparison at the beginning of this review. Eventually, I understood that album and I grew to really love it. This also applies to this album. I also understand that many people might not want to take the time to understand this music, and maybe won't even like it once they do start to understand it. That's okay. But I can tell you, that I love this album and consider it a masterpiece, even through it's chaos and thickness, but it took some time to get to that point. I have to give this 5 stars, because it is quite a groundbreaking album, and for this to be as inaccessible as it is, it's quite amazing that The Mars Volta has got such a large fan base. That is a huge feat in and of itself.

TCat | 5/5 |

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