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THE MARS VOLTA

Heavy Prog • United States


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The Mars Volta picture
The Mars Volta biography
Formed 2001 in Los Angeles, USA - Disbanded in 2012

Formed in 2001 after the demise of hard-rock outfit AT THE DRIVE-IN, THE MARS VOLTA was put together by ex-AT THE DRIVE-IN members Cedric Bixler (vocals) and Omar Rodriguez (guitar). Those two then recruited Juan Alderete on bass, Ikey Owens on keyboard, and Jon Theodore on drums, as well as Jeremy Ward, who contributed sound effects. While other ex-AT THE DRIVE-IN members continued on the path of their predecessor with punk/emo band SPARTA, THE MARS VOLTA expanded the sound that they had previously forged, venturing often into extended explosions of free jazz and psychedelic jamming throughout their songs. That said, they still stayed true to their roots as a hard rock band, and while they are listed as art-rock, they could fit under several different genres. Their debut was 2002's "Tremulant" EP, but their reputation was built over their staggering live shows. The group received recognition opening for the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, as bassist Flea proclaimed them to be the best opener he'd ever had. However, not all was well. Ward died from a drug overdose on May 25th, 2003. The band continued on without him though, and their first full-length album "De-Loused in the Comatorium" was released two months later. This brooding record is a concept album about the band's friend Julio Venegas, who went into a coma and experienced amazing things. However, he then snapped out and couldn't take the return to reality, proceeding to take his own life.

If you aren't a fan of louder music, steer clear of them. They may have evolved beyond AT THE DRIVE-IN, but they still show hints of that hardcore/punk style that they had previously mastered, and this may bother some people. The vocals are also a bit over the top, and could easily scare some people off. They make some very good music though, and it should appeal to most prog fans.

- Bryan Adair

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De-Loused In The ComatoriumDe-Loused In The Comatorium
Republic 2003
$7.50
$1.95 (used)
AmputechtureAmputechture
Universal 2006
$9.23
$1.72 (used)
Scab Dates (Live Album)Scab Dates (Live Album)
Universal 2005
$25.50
$1.28 (used)
The Widow Pt.1The Widow Pt.1
Single · Extra tracks
Universal Import 2005
$2.91 (used)
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THE MARS VOLTA discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE MARS VOLTA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.19 | 1146 ratings
De-Loused In The Comatorium
2003
4.05 | 847 ratings
Frances The Mute
2005
3.86 | 539 ratings
Amputechture
2006
3.50 | 486 ratings
The Bedlam In Goliath
2008
3.65 | 389 ratings
Octahedron
2009
3.54 | 299 ratings
Noctourniquet
2012

THE MARS VOLTA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.35 | 42 ratings
Live
2003
2.79 | 104 ratings
Scab Dates
2005

THE MARS VOLTA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

THE MARS VOLTA Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE MARS VOLTA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.25 | 107 ratings
Tremulant EP
2002
3.57 | 18 ratings
Televators
2003
2.78 | 17 ratings
Inertiatic ESP
2003
3.81 | 41 ratings
The Widow
2005
3.31 | 22 ratings
L'Via L'Viaquez
2005
3.30 | 27 ratings
A Missing Chromosome
2005
4.39 | 35 ratings
Frances the Mute - Single
2005
3.21 | 10 ratings
Viscera Eyes
2006
2.65 | 18 ratings
Wax Simulacra
2007
2.76 | 16 ratings
Candy And A Currant Bun
2008
3.18 | 21 ratings
Cotopaxi
2009
3.43 | 29 ratings
The Malkin Jewel
2012

THE MARS VOLTA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Bedlam In Goliath by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.50 | 486 ratings

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The Bedlam In Goliath
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by ScarletViper

4 stars Ah yes, the Bedlam in Goliath - when I found this page on these forums, i was suprised to find that this album is so... divisive. Since this is my first review, I probably won't make this too long-winded. That being said, I think this album is exceptionally good - one of my favorites for sure (right behind Frances the Mute and Amputechture for me).

The good things about this album:

1. Stunning musicianship is found on this album, as is the norm with the Mars Volta. Dare I say, some of their best work with songs like "Goliath," "Metatron," and "Was Simulacra." 2. Energetic. Holy crap, the momentum this album has is ridiculous. While some people listen to this album and hear a disjointed mess, I hear some of the Mars Volta's most climactic and fast-paced songwriting to date. Is it a little bit entropic? Sure. But is it forward-driving and consistent? Definitely. 3. Experimental. As per usual, the Mars Volta does something different with this album. While sometimes this can be iffy (I'm not a huge fan of the robot voice in "Askepios" and "Tourniquet Man"), the sophistication in songwriting doesn't disappear amidst the shouting, heavy percussion, and guitar solos. 4. Great songwriting. Many of the songs (at least to me) are memorable. The endings to songs like "Ouroborous" and "Goliath" are some of their most climactic, exciting works yet. Songs like "Cavelettas" and "Soothsayer" continue the Mars Volta tradition of messing around with time signatures and dissonances to create an odd, but haunting feel.

The (potentially) bad things about this album: 1. It lacks the slower, eerier moments of albums like "Amputechture" and "Frances the Mute." Almost the entire album is a wall of sound. This can make it a bit jarring for a new/ inexperienced prog fan and/or Mars Volta fan. 2. It isn't as punkish as Deloused, but does go a little bit more towards the energetic punkish vein. It is at a bit of an odd place between Deloused and Frances/ Amputechture. I could definitely see where the complaint that this album is inconsistent or doesn't know what it wants to be might come from. 3. As aforementioned, the experimentation sometimes feels unnecessary and egregious. This is a nothing complaint for me, but its worth mentioning - this isn't a great album for somebody new to this band.

These downsides are more objective, however, then personal problems I have. This is a great album in my book. Overall, I give it an 8.5/10

 Amputechture by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.86 | 539 ratings

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Amputechture
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by 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.

 Amputechture by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.86 | 539 ratings

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Amputechture
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by thesameoldfears

5 stars Ok, so I've been going back and forth between 4 or 5 stars, but I'll settle on 5 to balance out some of the negative reviews on this triumph of album. I thought this was a really compelling release. Vicarious Atonement is a slow burn that sets the table perfectly, with its ominous soundscape, searing guitar, and troubling lyrics. Then bang we get Tetragrammaton which is almost 17 minutes of a true musical odyssey; lots of twists and turns and musical contrast, never gets boring. The vocals on Viscera Eyes are just awesome when paired with the catchy guitar riff underneath. Day of the Baphomets is a really wild track which seems to be pulling from tons of different influences, but it does a very good job of conveying a sense of impending doom. I found this to be a really challenging but ultimately engaging listening experience.

Just one note on the mastering, I think this album has been mastered too loud. There seems to be some degradation in sound quality, and it really gives me ear fatigue sometimes. The music is already very heavy at times and the mastering engineer shouldn't have felt the need to crank the volume on top of that and damage the sound quality.

 Noctourniquet by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.54 | 299 ratings

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Noctourniquet
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by russellk
Prog Reviewer

3 stars With this, their last album before a timely disbanding, THE MARS VOLTA complete the transition from a psyched-out retro-prog band to a standard rock band with a few tricks. Gone are the epic tracks, the demented guitars, the crazy concepts. All that is left are the songs and, despite their undoubted quality, they're not quite enough.

Part of the problem is that by this point the band is itself a slimmed-down version of the eight-man goliath from their glory days. No Ikey on keyboards is a severe loss, for example (as was his untimely passing in 2014). But at the heart of it is the disintegration of the relationship between Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala. Hard to make great music when the trust and respect isn't there. So, with a few exceptions, the songs here are one dimensional, pallid imitations of their previous work.

All that said, there are plenty of bands who would be proud to have Empty Vessels, Aegis, The Malkin Jewel and the last two minutes of In Absentia on their resume. On the other hand, there are more than a few clunkers on this album, particularly near the end.

A great band. Whether they appealed to you or not, you should be grateful for the way they pushed the boundaries of hard, psychedelic prog rock. Just not on this album.

 Noctourniquet by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.54 | 299 ratings

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Noctourniquet
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer

1 stars Noctourniquet is the sixth and (probably) final album by the Mars Volta, a band of volcanic energy, instrumental virtuosity, electric creativity... and a steady downward slide in quality that ends with this messy, electronic, unapproachable, conflicted, abstract, and ultimately awful album. I was excited about this album at the time of it's release, because I love the band's early works and was hoping for a comeback... a wanted to love this album.

I hate this album.

It's one of the few records in my collection that, when I begin listening, I genuinely want it to stop almost immediately. Maybe this is nostalgia or sentimentality for the amazing De-Loused, Frances, or Amputechture, or maybe it's the weird staggered rhythms, non-existent melodies, flat and bland dynamics, highly electronic - almost computerized sound, meandering drumming and guitar work, and joylessness that practically assaults the senses with each song.

That's really it, joylessness, I think. This album simply isn't any fun for anyone involved, musicians included. There clearly isn't excitement from a songwriting or performance standpoint, because each of these songs drifts by as unmemorably and unexcitingly as the one that preceded it. Noctourniquet is more than an hour of sounds that aren't quite songs, aren't quite ambiance, aren't quite experimental. It's like a collection of Trent Reznor demos over which Bixler-Zavala recites abstract poetry to. Discussions and interviews talk about the more concise, song-oriented nature of this album, which I totally disagree with. The entire album feels like one agonizingly long song that doesn't know what to do with itself, and the musicians phone this one in and let the album's producer pick up the pieces. There is nothing to grab hold of or remember here.

It's different than they're other releases I'll give it that, but Noctourniquet fails on all fronts. It's a tragic close to an amazing legacy that is definitely for completionists only. People who don't like Mars Volta will probably hate this album, maybe even more than people who love the band. I'm glad that, now having reviewed this album, I'll never have to listen to it again. No, I'm not exaggerating. I love this band... but I hate this album.

Songwriting: 1 - Instrumental Performances: 2 - Lyrics/Vocals: 1 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 1

 Frances The Mute by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2005
4.05 | 847 ratings

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Frances The Mute
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by Insin

4 stars The short version: I love this album but there's just so much random noise on it.

The Mars Volta has crafted a diverse, eclectic album with Frances the Mute. From the half-hour epic Cassandra to the catchy, almost radio-friendly The Widow; from Latin, jazz, and traces of funk and hardcore, FtM covers all aspects of a memorable prog album.

There is one major flaw with this album: the sheer amount of random noise present. Sometimes placed at the ends of songs, where it is easy to skip, but more often embedded at their beginnings or middles, it seems to have no musical function except making the entrance to the actual song structure better and more dramatic. For instance, if Cassandra did not have the ten minutes of noodling, the buildup back into the final chorus would not be nearly as powerful and satisfying. Contrarily, the noise ruins Miranda the Ghost That Just Isn't Holy Anymore. It would have made a great short track, similar to The Widow, but they managed to drag it out to almost fourteen minutes and the original song seems to get lost amid all the samples and whatnot. And then, of course, the noise is annoying to listen to on its own. It makes the songs perhaps not more atmospheric but definitely a little creepy, adding a mystique that shifts TMV even farther from the mainstream than they already were.

Cygnus? Vismund Cygnus manages to escape the curse of the noise to a degree, though the very end is full of the stuff. Still, I would cite this as Frances's standout track. After a quiet intro, Cygnus launches headfirst into a chaotic, urgent beginning, screeching to a halt and then building back up from a quiet middle to an energetic close. The buildup is done well, without the aid of random noise and instead based on a musical idea. FtM would be getting a certain five if the rest of the songs followed this idea? Another thing about Cygnus is that it starts with the same acoustic segment that ends the album? something that is simple but genius.

There's a great album hidden amid all the bursts of the random noise, and it's worth hearing. FtM blends various genres and influences into a chaotic but effective, enjoyable sophomore album, certainly living up to Deloused, with more long songs, more innovation, and more prog.

 De-Loused In The Comatorium by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2003
4.19 | 1146 ratings

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De-Loused In The Comatorium
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by marcobrusa

1 stars Always when i write a bad review i feel like it's wrong or offensive. In this case, i feel like the music is wrong and offensive. It's not hate, it's not that i didn't give it a chance. I simply cannot listen to this. It's impossible for me. Every highly rated album will recieve a bad review at some point so that takes my guilt away. If you like this album or band, do not continue reading because i will be raw. This is probably the most unbearable album/band i've ever heard. The aesthetic is so immature! The hysterical mood just grinds my gears. The singer specially makes me want to punch him. So hysterical... so pretentious... and everything is so fast and loud it makes me feel like they dont have any taste for music; like they composed this just for sport. Like they were faking, pretending they were gonna write a revolutionary modern album: but it's horrible. An insult to beauty and ugliness too because ugliness can be an aesthetic but this is not the case. So many people rated this 5 stars. WTF?! The most overrated album in progarchives is this one. I have no doubt. 1 bothering star.
 Amputechture by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.86 | 539 ratings

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Amputechture
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by Kevman28

2 stars The Mars Volta. What a strange and unique band! How I wish they would reform, and share more delights with us after a string of fantastic albums, culminating in the magnificent Noctourniquet. Today however, I tried for the hundredth time to sit through Amputechture. This album starts well, but is their only release that I just cannot get too fond of. It's a mess. Songs that sound unnecessarily and awkwardly stretched so far that they no longer make any coherent resemblance to a tune. Widdly guitar that sounds like Robert Fripp during the Discipline era, but off his head on something illegal. Singing that does not work with the guitar. Noise. I think the plan for this album was to see how far they could push their sound, but they went too far.
 Frances The Mute by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2005
4.05 | 847 ratings

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Frances The Mute
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Those who want to enter into the unknown realms of The Mars Volta's music should either start with this album or with "De-loused in the Comatorium", mostly for safety reasons. If you start with "Amputecture" or "The Bedlam in Goliath", you will be entering the realm of what may seem like chaos and insanity, because both of those albums are some of the most challenging and dense albums I've ever heard. Many listeners actually found this album, "Francis the Mute" very challenging at first, but, believe me, this one is so much more structured than the previous two I just mentioned. The music here fits more of a structured and traditional form of writing, even though there isn't anything very traditional about this album. There are recognizable melodies on this album that are evident on the first listen, and this album probably better represents The Mars Volta than "Deloused..." does, but it is also an excellent album as is this one.

In "FtM", there is a lot more contrast in sound, the music is less dense, there is a lot more experimentation going on, and the music is better on the first listen. This is outstanding song writing and composition all the way through. The process was quite different here then it would be on "Amputecture" and "BiG". On the development of the music on this album, Cedric would write the songs basic structure including the lyrics. Then he would meet one-on-one with the individual band members who would take the basic sound and add their parts to it, taking it slowly at first, and then bringing it up to tempo. Each layer would be added until it became the sound that we have on the album. In later albums, the process was to create music more unstructured and on the fly, all together and at the moment, hence the feeling of chaos that prevails on those albums. This is why it is wise to start out with this album if you are considering exploring the music of TMV.

You get a lot of variety on this album, even within each separate track. "Cygnus..." will give you a good idea of the types of sounds you will hear throughout the album, great structure, complex meters and song structure, amazing instrumentation and even sections hinting on experimentation, especially at the end of the track. "The Widow" is the radio friendly track. It is the most accessible, as would be expected, with a pretty standard 6/8 rhythm and the surprising addition of brass. On the radio edit, the song is just over 3 minutes, but on the album version it is close to 6 minutes. Those extra minutes consists of some really cool experimentation (not really ambient as other reviewers have said, just experimental).

"L'Via l'Viaquez" is another great track that has some great guitar solos and Spanish sounding breakdowns resembling a samba rhythm. This is some great genre mixing sound that you don't get enough of in later albums that break up the wall of sound and denseness that is sometimes present here. Very excellent and creative. "Miranda..." is another great track that continues with the same style of excellent sound and music with all the same complexity. This one has a lighter feel to it at times, though it is still quite complex.

Following this is the 30 minute, multi movement epic masterpiece called "Cassandra Gemini". Again, this one has a lot of structure especially compared to later albums. However, this is probably closer to the chaos that would come, but is still an amazing piece of work. I'm not about to take it apart piece by piece, just expect a lot great guitar work, some dissonance and breakdowns with mood shifts and swings throughout.

The mixes of the later albums would also be more dense to reflect the music. This album is mixed to allow the individual parts to stand out a lot better. Even though I have grown to enjoy the later Mars Volta albums, to me they just don't arrive at the masterpiece status like this album does. It has complexity, experimentation, great musicianship and song craft, better balance and structure yet never commercial (except for the short radio track), great orchestration. This is definitely one of the best prog albums from the 2000's and should be considered essential. This is also an incredible band's best album. A must have for prog lovers.

 Frances The Mute by MARS VOLTA, THE album cover Studio Album, 2005
4.05 | 847 ratings

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Frances The Mute
The Mars Volta Heavy Prog

Review by Gallifrey

4 stars 10 Years On: The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute

I think I have a rather big slice of humble pie to dig into.

There have been some rather negative opinions pointed towards Frances the Mute that have been flung around the internet over the last year or so, many of them coming from my mouth (or fingers, I guess). If this album came up in discussion, I'd immediately jump onto my well- developed 'Deloused, cut in half, and filled to the brim with absolute nonsense' argument, which utterly tore apart those people who enjoyed this album with logic and reason (I hope). And to be honest, I still subscribe to that view a bit, just not so much. To me, this album was the manifestation of Volta going too far, of them losing sight of restraint and subtlety and in the process losing all of their marbles and all of their ability to write a coherent album. 'About twenty minutes of it is really solid, fantastic Mars Volta material', I would often say, pointing at the major song sections of 'Cygnus' and 'The Widow', but when a 30 minute epic has about 12 minutes of real song time, you know you've got problems.

I was so content with this opinion that I didn't even feel like I needed to re-listen to Frances the Mute that much before I gave it a good old 10th anniversary scolding, but I did anyway.

Crud.

I like it.

How embarrassing.

Frances the Mute is a stupid record. In fact, it's borderline moronic, but once you realise that, and accept it, you can truly start to see the fun in its stupidity. And I'm not talking about this being a tongue-in-cheek lelsoquirky album filled with 12 year old humour, attempting to be 'satirical', I'm talking about the way Volta make prog fun without making it cheesy or needlessly self-indulgent (mostly). At times we're laughing with the music, at times we're laughing at the music, and at times they drop that whole charade and put out quite beautiful passages of music, reminding us so eloquently that they aren't a bunch of bumbling retards being laughable on purpose.

I always liked 'Cygnus' Vismund Cygnus', at least a bit. The song has such an loveable charm in the way it goes about its 13 minute duration. Sure, the instrumental parts are a bit too wanky for what they're trying to achieve, and there's that entire section at the end that quite frankly doesn't need to be there, but it's got some hella fun parts. I think this song works so well because of the consistently catchy vocals from Cedric, that manage to be very poppy and therefore very fun, but without running into cringe-inducing over-saturated pop cheese. The main body of the song is so damn catchy that you basically forget how crazy the instruments behind the vocals are. And to be honest, for much of this song they're crazy in a good way as opposed to a bad one. The drumming is as good as drumming will ever get, and the guitars all sort of gel together to form a manic backdrop that actually works for once. And then there's that breakdown after the second chorus. Man, if that isn't a joke segment I don't know what is.

Past me used to say this song was utterly pointless after four minutes. And he's partially right - that two-minute solo at about 5 minutes in is frankly embarrassing, although the idea to break into a moody solo after the mental first few minutes is a good one, and the music behind the solo is pretty nice. The second half of the song does warrant some great moments, mostly courtesy of Cedric, with the entire vocal section of the bridge being one of my favourite parts of the album. Omar does get a bit of messy wanking going before the (admittedly glorious) drop into the chorus, but it's made fantastic by some glorious snare work from Jon Theodore. But I will give past me this - this song is utterly pointless after about 10. Oh yeah sure a nice ambient break with some ~spooky~ field recordings. Genius. Aside from the fact that it leads brilliantly into 'The Widow' it is totally pointless and at least two minutes longer than it needs to be. Still, four minutes of filler in a thirteen minute song isn't that bad? Right?

I always hated 'L'Via L'Viaquez', for various reasons. Never been a fan of latin music, I think it's corny as hell. Never been a fan of prog bands pulling from latin music, it makes the corniness worse. The messy solos here are still too much, and again, this could easily be a lot shorter. Overall, it's still probably the weakest track here, but time has taught me to enjoy it, at least a little bit. The 'ohohoh yeaaahhhhhhh' part before it drops into the weird chorus is absolutely glorious, and counters pretty much every bad part on this song, seeing Cedric hit stadium-rock levels of over-the-top theatricism, complimented perfectly by Theodore's manic snare hitting. The chorus itself is' odd, to put it lightly. It's ceritanly a bit surreal, dropping straight out from latin rock fusion into a piano-led section in a completely different tempo and mood. And then it flies back into the main section with a nice big old wankfest from Omar. The good and bad on this track balance out pretty well, although as it progresses, the bad gets dragged on far more than the good. I mean what on earth was the point in that final chorus section going on for five minutes?

'Miranda That Ghost Just Ain't Holy Anymore', above all of its flaws, is probably the Mars Volta's best track. The band said the entire thing is meant as a homage to western films, particularly the work of Ennio Morricone, and it does come through a bit in the instrumental. After a minute of (garbage) ambience, we get some really nice ambience coming in, setting a scene so unlike any other Mars Volta song - serene, vast, and subtly ominous. The song portion of this track, ie when Cedric is singing, is fantastic. Truly fantastic. The horns are glorious and upfront, the organ and ambience in the background wandering, and Cedric singing with some true soul that many of his ilk go without. The only thing that stops this being flawless is the utterly anticlimactic finish. I love the big reprise of the chorus, but surely Volta could have exploded it a bit more. Eight minutes of build for a 30 second release and four minutes of nonsense ambience.

And I guess I can't review this album properly without mentioning the centrepiece, a 32 minute song arbitrarily split into 8 segments, entitled 'Cassandra Geminni'. And while the wikipedia page does use the word 'arbitrarily' to describe the track splits, I must say they're oh so useful for separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of this song's duration. Because as you can imagine, this is The Mars Volta with a 32 minute song. Less than half of that will be actual song, the rest will be nonsense.

For part of the song at least, it feels like they've tried to structure it pretty well. It would certainly be a great 16-20 minute epic at least, because of the fantastic way they use recurring themes and mood-setting elements. After a ripping intro, we get Cedric with some strange effects introducing the story. Of course, 'the story' is likely meaningless gibberish, but the way it jumps between spoken word sections and sung hooks is reminiscent of the very best classic prog epics, and it's clear they've done their homework on it. The chorus, which shows up in the first track, and later on in the seventh (26 minutes later) is brilliant. A really awesome, memorable, simple hook, that can easily be transitioned back into without much effort, and is simple enough to do some basic referencing from.

The feeling of restraint stays pretty well throughout tracks two and three, with these pretty much feeling like bridges to the first track, with the only real complaint being that track two does drag on a bit long and lose a bit of momentum leading into three. Fantastic horns in track three as well, really excellent stuff. But then truly it starts to lose it a bit. Track four is the longest single part of the epic and is honestly where they lose any restraint. A softer, more subdued section is always needed in the middle of an epic, but eight minutes? That's practically an epic in itself, and listening to Cedric whispering over noodling jazz nonsense isn't exactly enjoyable. The fifth and sixth tracks sadly continue this trend, but while four and five may be wanky messes of bad solos, I actually quite enjoy the free jazz saxiness of number six. If this was the only solo on the song I would be pretty happy with it to be honest, but we know that can't be true. It also gets bonus points for an utterly brilliant transition into the chorus, which after 26 minutes feels like the absolute ultimate release.

And I guess while I'm at talking this album through track-by-track, I'll give a paragraph to 'The Widow'. I also think it is a testament to this album that each track can be discussed so thoroughly, because each is so unique, and 'The Widow' is the token pop song of the record. Similar to 'Televators' from the debut album, this is probably my favourite song here behind the main part of "Miranda". A brilliant contrast to the opening track, this is an emotional ballad about' something, and Cedric's vocal performance is truly one of his best. Honestly, the only thing I dislike about this track is the fact that the verses are too short. The hook of the song is so utterly fantastic, and it regularly feels as if it comes too soon. I mean, this song is basically three minutes long. A three-minute Volta song, and it's one of their best. Come on, they could have pulled that out a bit longer. Also, bonus mention to the utterly garbage last minute of trashy ambience in this song. Somehow it managed to top the closing minutes of 'Cygnus' for pointlessness and break of album flow.

This album is a laugh. Sure, sometimes it pushes beyond that and goes into material that is just stupid as opposed to being funny, but really I was trying to take it far too seriously, and The Mars Volta, at least in this incarnation, are not a serious band. But the best part for me is that they aren't purposely trying to be crazy or wacky or funny, it just flows naturally with their songwriting style. Too many times have I cringed endlessly at bands who think being as manic as possible is how you make technical music, and many of them were undeniably inspired by this record. Those albums feel like little kids laughing hysterically at people on youtube being random, whereas this is a touch more sincere and its comedy is a bit less childish. It still has problems, but the problems are part of its charm. There is definitely still a bit of filler and a few of the solos border too close on meaningless wankery, but I do quite enjoy this album now. And I'm glad for it.

7.8

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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