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The Mars Volta - Amputechture

Released on GSL/Universal, 09/12/06

The new album from alterna-hipsters The Mars Volta hits us with a conundrum before we even get the shrink-wrap off. What does the name Amputechture mean? It’s obviously a creation, but what did the mad geniuses Omar Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler, TMV’s masterminds, have in mind when naming their third full-length?

The duo behind past epics Frances The Mute and De-Loused In The Comatorium do not come across as flippant album namers. But Amputechture? Amplifiers as architecture? Certainly loud noise plays a big role in TMV’s oeuvre. As one of the new purveyors of psychedelic metal, the band has taken many pages from the Led Zeppelin playbook. Amputation? The Volta’s have experienced loss over their career. Jeremy Ward, an original member of At The Drive-In, the 90s rock darlings from which TMV rose, and contributor on the first TMV album, OD’d a few years ago and hard partying has probably resulted in some brain cell loss for the boys. However, the "A" word that most aptly defines this new phase in the band’s career is ambition.

The Mars Volta’s sound has always been complex; a swirling brew of jazz riffs, guitar passages that demand Townshend like attitude, vocals that would be operatic if they weren’t so scary. In the studio the band make full use of every piece of equipment that can distort and manipulate, and the results can have as much in common with Radiohead as with System of a Down. In 05 they reached their widest audience to date when the track "The Window", from their sophomore release Frances The Mute, became a hit on alternative radio. KROQ in New York delighted in playing the song in its entirety, including the last two minutes of Tom Yorke like warped piano and computer blips, sans vocals. Despite mixed reviews Frances The Mute sold over a hundred thousand it’s first week.

Amputechture starts off in similar fashion with the seven minute “Vicarious Atonement”. Its “No Quarter” like blues riffs and melancholic progression demand that we wait for the opening vocals, which finally make an appearance at the two-minute thirty mark. The song never fully builds, but calmly guides us to the sixteen-minute mini rock opera “Tetragrammaton”. Two songs in and we’ve been listening for almost twenty-five minutes; the remaining six tracks continue at the same raised bar standard and tempo changes. Try three per song in some instances. The playing in AMP is spectacular. Chili Pepper John Fruissante provides blazing guitar pyrotechnics throughout, organ and keyboards anchor a lot of the tracks and allow Bixler-Zavala plenty of room to do his Robert Plant/Brian Molko thing.

While a lot of the musical references point back across the pond, the band defiantly projects a West Coast vibe. Rhythms and melodies dart like the wind off the New Mexico desert, and like their pals the Peppers, with whom they’re touring this fall, the metallic funk that occasionally peaks out is Cali born. With Amputechture, what stared out as a side project for the ATDI boys six years ago has become a fully formed movement, bravo.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars