THE MARS VOLTA Opus Revisited

There aren’t many bands that have released a work worthy of being called a masterpiece in their careers. There are even fewer bands who release their debut album, and it’s almost instantaneously called an essential album. The Mars Volta have accomplished this, and in doing so, crafted one of the few essential albums of the new milenium, up there with Pain of Salvation’s ‘Remedy Lane,’ Porcupine Tree’s ‘Deadwing’ and Devin Townsend’s ‘Terria.’

The album has a more raw tone then the later releases, and the album benefits from this, giving it something of a punk/indie feel, with a touch of The Mars Volta’s father band, At The Drive-In. As far as compositions go, the songwriting is tighter then the band’s other masterpiece, ‘Frances The Mute.’ But there is a great level of ‘weirdness’ to be experienced with this music.

Songs like ‘Inertiatic ESP’ have alot of energy, and work really well to craft the album into what it is. The album’s last song, ‘Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt’ is my favourite song on the album; it’s one part emotional and energetic and another part relaxed psychedelic jam. Very good stuff.

Another great song of mention is the depressing ballad ‘Televators.’ It took me a while to get into, but it’s really a beautiful song, and a sign that shows The Mars Volta know how to write a really good song.

‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ is a great album, and although not all prog fans will be able to appreciate it, at the very least, it’s definately worth checking out.

In the footsteps of ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium,’ The Mars Volta had some very big shoes to fill for their next album, and expectations were very high. What resulted was an album that is very different from the first one, and yet another masterpiece. There’s a really spaced out feeling for most of the album, but the actual music itself far overshadows any of the atmospheric stuff. Some of the atmospheric ‘trips’ I find sort of annoying, but the music is far too good to give the album less then a masterpiece rating. There is not a single weak track on here, and the albums longest song, the half hour ‘Cassandra Geminni’ is probably the band’s most powerful song.

The lyrics are half in spanish, and half in english. This combination gives a good latin vibe that runs throughout the album. Songs like ‘L’Via Viaquez’ feel like this is a prog band from deep within South America, instead of El Paso, Texas. The best vocal performances of Cedric Bixler-Zavala can be found on here, in songs like ‘Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore’ and ‘The Widow.’ On another note, the song titles are very cool, and tell stories of their own… (Just a thought.)

The only problem on this album is that the flow is interfered with because of the constant space trips that seem to decommercialize every aspect of this album (in a bad way.) Besides that, it is a really amazing album, and every fan of The Mars Volta should own and love this. The best Mars Volta album.

The first two records released by The Mars Volta (and their ‘Tremulant EP’) amazed me and blew me away. Their spacy, improvised and very unique style produced two masterpieces of modern progressive music, ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ and ‘Frances The Mute.’ While the band’s third full-length album ‘Amputechture’ is excellent and has some really amazing sections in it, it’s not quite up to par with the first two (although it’s certainly a lot better than the noisy and disappointing ‘Bedlam In Goliath.’)

‘Amputechture’ has always seemed to me as being marriage between the two styles found on each of the previous two albums. There is the frantic raw energy found on ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ mixed with the spaciness and constant atmospherics showcased on ‘Frances The Mute.’ Funny as it may sound for such a ‘weird’ band such as The Mars Volta, some of the songs on ‘Amputechture’ actually sound very concisely composed, even if they’re pretty long throughout. While attention to some sort of structure is always a good thing, and there are definately parts to remember, with the exception of some of the material, the songs just seem to blend in with themselves, which obviously isn’t a good for songs that typically range up to nine minutes.

‘Tetragrammaton’ is the only song here that really benefits from being long. The other songs could have been honestly just as effective if they had been stripped down.

While ‘Amputechture’ has the energy/atmosphere combined from the first two albums, while it’s still a great album to listen to once in a while, it simply doesn’t have enough of those true moments of bliss that I look for in The Mars Volta. That’s not to say there aren’t any here, but you’ll have to fish for them.

Amputechture, Pt II? Yeah, not quite…

When ‘The Bedlamn In Goliath’ was released, The Mars Volta ranked up there as being one of my favourite bands. I was hoping for something that was going to harken back to the times of ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ or even something completely new, that was a masterpiece. Instead, what the world got was essentially an ‘Amputechture’ Part II release that’s not even as good as the first. While it’s dissapointing however, it has too many moments of interest for me to give it the one star I would like to.

The band is going in a direction where I don’t think I can follow them, if they going down the path. What they have done is strip emotional feeling out of most of the music (on ‘De-Loused,’ there was plenty) and replaced with a latin-jazz-funk sound that while not terrible, isn’t really what I want out of this particular band.

Emotion is honestly the center of any sort of music (even prog!) and with so little to be found on ‘The Bedlam In Goliath’ it’s really turned me off to the album, and in a way, the band.

From a purely logical perspective however, the music is great. Theres a very rich atmospheric layering (the same layering that hurt the emotional side of the music in the first place) that works at times. Theres a bad problem that the band falls into however with using too many breaks from the energy… For example in ‘Askepios’ after 30 seconds of actual music, it falls into a noisy slum that I am always wanting to just skip through. Music shouldn’t make you want to skip through parts!

What prevents this from getting the sort of rating I’ve been measuring it up for is that some of the music, while lacking emotion is very awesome to listen to. ‘Wax Simulacra’ and ‘Goliath’ stood out to me as being quite good. As far as marking goes, an album with a few good songs, and the rest ranging from poor to mediocre rates as a two star album.

I’m sure that this could have been alot better, with a bit more taste and attention to the details. Dissapointing, non-essential, but wasn’t terrible to listen to either.

Following a pretty dissapointing bout with ‘The Bedlam In Goliath,’ The Mars Volta’s self- proclaimed ‘acoustic album’ comes as a very refreshing return to quality, although failing to reach the glory of their first works. While ‘Bedlam’ may have been chock-full of chaos, noise and atonality, ‘Octahedron’ makes out to be their most conventional and ‘accessible’ piece of music to date. While some of the band’s more hardcore fans might see this as a sign of the band slowing down, I for one am very relieved to see the band decided to recoil from the path they were on, to do something unexpected and new in their career.

Of course, the big controversy with ‘Octahedron’ is it’s label as an ‘acoustic album,’ while fans everywhere swear that the music is full of electric guitar. While the music is certainly not ‘acoustic’ in the conventional sense, the message is very clear; the band here is trying to take a much less dense approach to their music, which helps remedy alot of the issues that the band had in albums prior. For the first time in their career, their use of psychedelic effects is becoming effective and much more polished than before, where it seemed a bit too over- indulgent. For the most part, the focus of the songs relies on the melodies of vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, whose voice is in top form for this album.

While the album does keep a cohesive string of pretty good music throughout the album, there are a few parts that recall back to ‘The Bedlam In Goliath;’ meanwhile other parts feel a bit too bland and mellow. While I laud The Mars Volta for developing their sound in the right direction, a little bit more balance between extremes could help the band regain even more of their past glory. In any case, while the group hasn’t entirely redeemed themselves and pulled themselves out of their recession, they are certainly making progress, and I believe that their next release (provided it continues to develop the group’s music) has real potential to make waves in the prog rock scene, like before.

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