|The Mars Volta
by Christopher Patterson
Some see The Mars Volta as a pretentious garage band, others see them as virtuosos, whose eminent fame will come to rival the band Led Zeppelin in their original, bizarre sound. Created in 2001 by ex-At The Drive In members Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, The Mars Volta have famously drawn comparisons to prog-rock bands like King Crimson, and their towering guitar squeals and awkward time signatures have been described as "Pink Floyd on speed," taking the casual listener anywhere from five to twenty repeated listenings until they actually begin to like it.
The Mars Volta's new album, Amputechture, is a stunning step for the band, as the Latin-American influences and scattering horns that were nascent in their first album De-loused in the Crematorium, and began to spore in their second studio album Frances the Mute, have blossomed into a full maturity, an original revolution in sound.
The first track begins with a creepy organ and lugubrious background vocals, while the horns (tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute) that were rarely glimpsed on Frances the Mute are back, and given their proper place in the foreground.
As expected, the real stars of this album are Cedric and Omar. Lead guitarist Omar, who was just recovering from an instrumental solo album of Persian and Middle-Eastern influences, returns with his unique "space-rock" style, again reaching a more refined level of sound through his Latin-American/Middle-Eastern influences, while the high-toned singer, Cedric, avidly attacks criticisms of being "a garage rock singer" in the song "Asilos Magdalena," a Spanish-acoustic ballad.
What Amputechture gets right is that it reinforces all of the band's famous qualities that drew fans in the first place. Its original style is complemented by the fact that none of their albums have yet to sound alike, but each can be seen as a dramatic progression to their overall sound. New listeners, however, will feel distanced by Amputechture, as if the band is constantly holding them at arms length. The best advice for a new Mars Volta listener, then, would naturally be to start from their first album and observe the band's progression from a post-At the Drive In sound to a powerfully unique style that endures in a class of its own.