As my last post for the year 2007 theme, I’d like to mention a band I found by interacting with concert-goers. A year prior, I was suggested by someone to see this next band, and coincidentally got to see this band perform live the following year. What resulted was a complete fascination, an obsession, and an introduction to a whole new type of music. From that point on, The Mars Volta became one of my favorite bands, and is still today a band I like to reminisce on.
The Mars Volta, based in Texas, was the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, but has expanded to include many other musicians, notably Juan Alderete on bass guitar, Ikey Owens on keys, and even John Frusciante on guitar. With Rodriguez-Lopez’s direction and producing, the band’s sound has shifted over the years, expanding into the genres of progressive rock, experimental rock, and even jazz fusion. Although the theme of my previous posts have been centered around the year 2007, it took almost a year for The Mars Volta’s 2006 release “Amputechture” to reach my ears. A massively under-rated album, “Amputechture” became the staple of my freshman year at college.
Being the first album in The Mars Volta’s discography to not center around a single narrative, I believe “Amputechture” instead revolves around an over-arching theme of religion and belief. Many of the songs are named after religious themes, including “Vicarious Atonement,” “Tetragrammaton,” and “El Ciervo Vulnerado.” As usual in Mars Volta albums, the lyrics are obscure, sometimes even uninterpretable. Instead, much of the album’s vocals must be felt by the listener to have the biggest impact. Bixler-Zavala’s wailing vocals are reminiscent of Robert Plant, with incredible range and a falsetto voice. It’s always fun to hear him sing, since the listener can never guess where his voice will go next.
The instrumentation of this album is massively experimental to say the least. Using chromatic scales, Rodriguez-Lopez completely throws music theory out the door on all of his albums, and instead uses incomprehensible imagination and creativity. Being a musician who has declared his sobriety, I am completely baffled at how much inspiration he finds without the “aid” that is used extensively by other musicians. For new listeners, his playing style can be very confusing, and possibly even distracting. I admit that the first time I ever heard this band, I was drawn away from the absolute chaos. With several listens, though, I started to understand not only what Rodriguez-Lopez was playing, but why he was playing it. Just like the vocals of the album, his guitar playing must be felt by the listener in order to understand. Logic plays no part in any Mars Volta album. You either feel it or you don’t.
With that said, there are several moments of pure brilliance within “Amputechture.” Numerous solos are spread out in the 16 minute song “Tetragrammaton.” The song “Day of the Baphomets” contains not only a jazzy bass intro, but a solid bongo solo by brother Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez. “Meccamputechture” is filled with brass and wind instrumentation thanks to Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez. Even the album’s most straight-forward song “Asilos Magdalena” features an acoustic guitar rhythm played to perfection. Overall, this 76 minute album contains a little bit of everything, leaving nothing left to be imagined by the listener.
Excluding the obvious choices of Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala as the standout performers on this album, I have to give a shout out to the sound manipulator Paul Hinojos and bassist Juan Alderete. Without Hinojos’ performance, “Amputechture” would be a completely different album. Just the subtle additions of sound effects and manipulation results in a much fuller sound, and helps establish the mood throughout the album. This album also contains amazing bass lines and solos, as previously mentioned in the song “Day of the Baphomets.” The bass sound perfectly complements Rodriguez-Lopez’s erratic guitar rhythm.
I recommend this album to those looking to go beyond their comfort zone. Truly an experimental album, “Amputechture” will either be loved or hated by its listeners. Being one of those who loved this album, I can compare their sound to the bands At The Drive-In, Ontologics, The Sound of Animals Fighting, Coheed and Cambria, Closure in Moscow, and The Sunpilots. For those looking for a calmer album by The Mars Volta, I recommend you start off with their first album “Deloused In The Comatorium,” a much more straight-forward and introductory album. Since The Mars Volta has officially broken up, you can instead support the band Antemasque, which includes both Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala. You can find them at their website and on Twitter.