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The Mars Volta
Amputechture
Universal Records
www.themarsvolta.com


Third album from ex-At the Drive-In honchos Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (gawsh, these guys must have extra-long signature boxes on their check books) and crew. This one features an expanded role for Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist John Frusciante - although he's not that recognizable here, despite doing the brunt of the guitar work.

Amputechture isn't a huge departure from previous Mars Volta records, being mostly mid-temp, prog-influenced hard rock with quiet acoustic passages giving way to screaming crescendos of atonal guitars and brass. That old prog-rock favourite, the flute, even makes a few appearances! Many of the songs stretch way over the 10 minute mark, which gives the band plenty of room for experimentation but can wear a bit thin at times.

A few highlights: "Vicarious Atonement" kicks things off slowly, with spiralling, soloing guitars and yowling vocals that sound like a slightly softer Robert Plant. Then it's into more typical MV territory with "Tetragrammaton" ,16 minutes of prog heaven with the twinkling electronic effects that make many of the band's songs stand out.

After that the songs tend to pretty much blend into one another, with no particular standouts for me until the final "El Ciervo Vulnerado", an epic screamer with what sounds like some nice sitar at the end.

Credit to Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez for pushing the boundaries of production throughout - what could have turned to be a modern update on Yes, or maybe a more experimental take on the likes of System of a Down, is given a modern sheen with all kinds of intriguing electronics, unexpected instrumentation and harmonic twists.

Overall this is an arresting, individual album with many interesting twists to distinguish it, but it could use a bit more dynamic range. The Mars Volta could take a lesson or two from the likes of Mogwai when it comes to building from a quiet hush to full-on rock mayhem; Amputechture doesn't have enough middle ground between those two extremes.

-Gareth Bowles

Track listing:
1. Vicarious Atonement
2. Tetragrammaton
3. Vermicide
4. Meccamputechture
5. Asilos Magdalena
6. Viscera Eyes
7. Day of the Baphomets
8. El Ciervo Vulnerado



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