September 7, 2006

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The Mars Volta, Amputechture
UMVD Labels, 2006

A few years ago, the neo-prog scene was fresh and promising. As it evolved, the genre began to seem stale, falling prey to the same pitfalls as the progressive rock of decades before—over-calculation, excessive ambition, and more self-indulgence than substance. No band’s career mirrors this path better than that of The Mars Volta, whose debut album, De-Loused in the Comatorium, was a credit to originality and musicianship, while their sophomore effort, Frances the Mute, was ambitious and exhibited musical prowess but got lost in its grandiose execution. Amputechture, however, bucks the negative trend and marks a return to the punctuality and cohesiveness of De-Loused, while maintaining the larger scope of Frances the Mute. Essentially, Amputechture achieves a balance between the strong points of both albums.

One distinct difference between Amputechture and other TMV albums is that it has no storyline guiding the course of the tracks. This change is welcome, as a third concept album would have been redundant.

Frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala’s vocals have improved since the last time out, while Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s guitar is more composed and understated, not dominating the musical landscape. Unchanged is the thunderous rhythm section created by drummer Jon Theodore, keyboardist Isaiah Ikey Owens, bassist Juan Alderte de la Peña, percussionist Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez and multi-instrumentalist Paul Hinojos-Gonzalez.

Like their predecessors, the tracks on Amputechture are long and loosely structured. The album opens with “Vicarious Atonement,” an ambient track that shifts abruptly into the faster-paced “Tetragrammaton,” which sounds like an homage to Yes circa 1973’s Close to the Edge. Next is “Vermicide,” a slow, rolling track and the shortest on the album, clocking in at 4:17. “Meccamputechture,” an 11-minute whirlwind of instruments over a driving beat, leads into the beautiful flamenco ballad “Asilos Magdalena.” While radio-friendly is a relative term in regard to the Mars Volta, “Viscera Eyes” is the closest thing to it. The frenzied “Day of Baphomets,” another Yes-influenced track, brings the album to the height of chaos before settling into the droning, sitar-drenched closer, “El Ciervo Vulnerado.”

Amputechture is a solid work that encapsulates the best aspects of The Mars Volta and brings new elements into that mix to further push the boundaries of current popular music. B+

— Chris Freddor