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 Frances is to slog through this first.
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.