Prog-Metal Wackos' Sick Chops Turn Noxious

The last two long-players by the Afroed Mars Volta brain trust siphoned inspiration from nearby tragedy—2003's De-Loused in the Comatorium concerned the death of friend-artist Julio Venegas, while 2005's Frances the Mute took its story line from a diary found by late Mars Volta tape manipulator Jeremy Ward. Conversely, the third 70-plus-minute dispatch from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala is pastiche-less; Amputechture's only thematic thread is sick musicianship.

While we wish no harm on their friends, we must say: The Volta work better with a narrative. Their prior records' numerous departures into sonic purgatory (eventually) came full circle, but Amputechture—whether offering Magic: The Gathering guitar noodling, the occasional skronking mariachi horn, high-registered Spanish croons, or electroshock banshee wails—feels like leftover night. It's solid, but as with Radiohead's Kid A follow-up Amnesiac, it highlights its predecessor's brilliance rather than asserting its own. The best way to enjoy the oft frustrating Francesis to slog through this first.

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The Mars Volta
Amputechture
Universal/Strummer

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There are flashes of brilliance. "Day of the Baphomets" may be the band's best long-form arrangement—clocking in at 12 minutes, free of dead air and other sonic tumbleweeds, anchored by machine-gun rhythms, and riffing on false idolatry, the track churns on broken brass until Bixler-Zavala's final "Poachers in your home!" refrain. But elsewhere, every off-kilter fret board rumination Rodriguez-Lopez has ever dreamt up is jammed together, non sequiturs be damned, adding to a canon more prolific than profound.

 
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