Amazon (2) With total respect to Witchcraft, Deftones and Cattle…
- Posted on Jan 24th 2013 2:00PM by Rob Rubsam
Tim Mosenfelder, Getty Images
There was a time, circa Amputechture, that the Mars Volta blew my musical doors to pieces, introducing me to 10-minute-plus suites, harsh ambient soundscapes, and songs that existed outside of 4/4 time. I backtracked immediately, picking up copies of Frances the Mute, then De-Loused in the Comatorium, the work for diehards. I remember riding the bus to school, just long enough for all of "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" to play out.
I, too, fell out of my super-fan phase sometime after the massive hype campaign for Bedlam, the lead-up to which felt like a drought broken only by a press release here, a jokey video there. But listening back now, what strikes me is the sheer potential of the music. Particularly on those first two or three albums, before the band started sounding a little too Floydian, the songs feel like they can go anywhere, meandering between math-rock breakdowns and hardcore thrashing, and feeling right the whole way. Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocals, particularly before he started doing chipmunk-style octaves on Amputechture, are epics to behold in their ferocity and range, his lyrics in their bizarre glossolalia. It reminds you that the immense hype the band rode into De-Loused was well and wholly earned. Even video of those early live performances attests: Cedric and Omar Rodríguez-López throw themselves all over the stage like late-period At the Drive-In, if slightly more focused on accuracy. It makes the transition from post-hardcore to prog-rock seem a lot more sensible -- even if the gut-punch of those first two records does not.
They seem to spring from a brain-stew of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Don Caballero and Merzbow, a very 21st-century music as beholden to psychedelics as samba. They jam the whole of Western-hemisphere music down your throat, asking you to parse it out later, if ever. Among fans, those works have risen to mythic status, two unscalable pillars. But truthfully, TMV's other records have many, if not equal, merits. As I said, Amputechture was my rabbit-hole, and its King Crimson-style grooves hold up, ferocious and jazzy. Bedlam is, arguably, their most diverse, harkening back to the punk energy of De-Loused while driving at dense song-structures and integrated noise. Octahedron and Noctourniquet, their last two, are easily the weakest, but both are distinct enough to be at least memorable, and certainly something more.
But like all bands deserving some kind eulogy, the Mars Volta end their career with a very strange list of accomplishments: They landed two partly-Spanish-language albums in the Top 10, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of each; a band named the Atlas of Id formed to sound exactly like them; they gave chances for Flea and John Frusciante to redeem themselves for time spent in the Red Hot Chili Peppers; they briefly made prog-rock seem like a viable commercial genre in the mid-2000s; and they maintained a two-man musical partnership for over 12 years and sold over a million records, with only one of them writing any of the music.
So maybe their loss won't be mourned quite like their legacy deserves, but I guess that's okay. After all, the music will always be there to remind us otherwise.