The Mars Volta - Amputechture 2LP (Limited Edition White & Muritz Blue Vinyl)
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Beneath the technical flash, the fury, the fearless creative brinkmanship of the first two Mars Volta albums lay a potent seam of the blues, an existential vexation that powered every twist and turn of Omar and Cedric's imaginations. That mournful vibe would come to the surface of the group's third full-length, Amputechture, a simmering/blistering set that was unquestionably the group's darkest yet.
There was no overarching theme here, no interlinking concept binding the songs together, though Cedric concedes that, lyrically, the album was influenced "by a lot of stuff I was going through, a really bad break-up and a lot of other crazy stuff, and trying to put that feeling into the record." But Amputechture - its name another of the late Jeremy Michael Ward's invented words - was no downbeat bummer.
Opener "Vicarious Atonement" might've been a deliciously gloomy, slow-burning thing, capturing Cedric in delirious duet with Omar's swooning guitar lines, accompanied by squalling saxophone by Adrian Terrazas-Gonzales and dream-frequency fuckery by the group's new sonic manipulator, former At the Drive-In member Paul Hinojos. But second track "Tetragrammaton" swiftly set pulses racing, an epic-in-miniature and containing more ideas within its 16 minutes than most bands manage over an entire career, its proggy, complex guitar figures tessellating in infinite configurations and converging as if conforming to mathematical formulae from another reality.
The raw material Amputechture was hewn from living on the road. Omar now travelled with his own mobile recording studio - a little Neve ten-channel tape recorder and an array of microphones - and was able to work on new ideas on tour buses, in hotel rooms and during soundcheck (and, occasionally, after the show was done). After touring for Frances the Mute was complete, Omar relocated to Amsterdam, staying with his photographer friend Danielle Van Ark and her partner, Nils Post. It's here that he demoed Amputechture, flying in engineer Jon DeBaun, drummer Jon Theodore and his brother Chino to work on these raw sketches. He later returned to Los Angeles, where the album was finally recorded.
Omar ceded guitar duties to his dear friend and kindred spirit John Frusciante, instead assuming the role of musical director. "I wanted to hear the sound of the band," he says. "I thought, I'll be able to sit at the console, feel the air of the speakers moving, the unified sound of everything, and not feel distant from it. It was fun, but it was also challenging."
Part of Omar's new method was to teach the musicians their parts only moments before the tapes rolled. "To keep things fresh, and to keep everyone on edge," he says, before chuckling. "No, not on edge - on their toes."
Amputechture would prove The Mars Volta's most diverse set yet, drawing into the group's tornado of influences moments of fiery jazz spirituality and esoteric folk introspection, finding space for passages of devastating subtlety and also their most fierce and full-on moments to date. The aforementioned "Vicarious Atonement" found its meditative mood echoed by Asilos Magdalena, an intimate, acoustic piece that invoked traditional Latin folk music, as Cedric sang in Spanish a sorrowful tale of a lost soul's quest for sanctuary within a Magdalen Asylum, a refuge set up by the Catholic church for "fallen women." The shadowy, sinister closer, "El Ciervo Vulnerado," meanwhile, tapped into the darker side of spiritual jazz to further explore the album's themes of redemption and religious myth and magick. Elsewhere, the interplay between guitar and clarinet on "Viscera Eyes" created complex, unsettling counter-melodies, while the coiling, ornate "Meccamputechture" - Cedric's wild fusion of sacred texts, occultism and dystopian science fiction - proved a great showcase for Ikey Owens' swarming, infernal organ runs.
- Double Vinyl LP
- Vicarious Atonement
- Asilos Magdalena
- Viscera Eyes
- Day of the Baphomets
- El Ciervo Vulnerado