The sheer challenge and inaccessibility of the music makes people either love or hate Mars Volta, and loving them is an increasingly difficult job. The band’s reach is so vast and diverse that fans seem to have broken into two camps – De-Loused vs. Frances. I love both those albums, but I fall into the camp that worships the expansive musicianly fury of Frances. Amputechture is considerably quieter and more subdued than Frances, and the renewed focus on Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s emotional but twisted vocal melodies make this album more comparable to De-Loused. Also, read the reviews here carefully because many of the unfavorable ones are obviously from people who only listened to the album once or twice, and judged it too quickly. Many of the reviewers who are praising the album implore you to let it sink in slowly. I couldn’t agree more, because I was initially disappointed by Amputechture’s drowsy slide away from the violent mood swings of Frances. But after a dozen listens, Amputechture has won me over, proving that once again Mars Volta are probably the one band on Earth who are most successful at challenging both themselves and the listener. These guys take the term “progressive” seriously.
The songwriting and directorship of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is astonishing in quantity, knowledge, and ambition, and no mere human should be able to create full new Mars Volta albums every 18 months, plus a solo album and a few other side projects along the way. The top half of Amputechture is musically insistent, but rather quiet and vocal-oriented. The musicianship remains challenging, and the unhinged Latin lullaby “Asilos Magdalena” is a pleasant surprise. The band finally starts rocking out in “Viscera Eyes,” and a nearly funky groove pops up in “Day of the Baphomets,” and these tracks are reassurance for lovers of Mars Volta’s rock side.
However this album shows some signs that Omar might want to take a short break from his hyper-creativity, because the King Crimson-like prog elements are starting to get a little repetitive in places. The focus on constructing the album as a whole, which was a real strength on both the previous albums, has resulted here in some songs that are all middle but lack beginnings or endings (“Vicarious Atonement” and “Meccamputechture” are two very obvious examples). Meanwhile, the musical skills of the band members (including Omar) are frequently getting lost in longwinded noodling. This applies especially to the unsung hero of Frances, drummer Jon Theodore, who recently left the band (fans will soon lament his absence). Fortunately, these issues don’t damage the believability of the songs or the overall performances. Mars Volta remain tough to love, but their progression into the outer reaches of rock are still intensely rewarding for the thinking (make that the obsessive) listener. [~doomsdayer520~]