Although the heyday of Progressive Rock had been long gone by this point, The Mars Volta were determined to keep the flame alive musically in that sense. Formed unusually out of a duo from an older band that made completely different music, At The Drive In, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala made a concept album for those interested in listening to such a thing. Despite being oddly out of step with trends for the time, this is a 10 track piece co-produced by Rick Rubin, and features many guests, including Flea and John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The album is based on a true story of one of the friends of The Mars Volta, who committed suicide back in 1996. Nine Inch Nails-esque? Possibly. In any case, this album launched The Mars Volta’s musical career, and this was and is widely seen as a classic album in its own way. Let’s hear this and see where the music takes us.
Son Et Lumiere is a short introductory piece to this album at a minute and a half long. It has some odd and Psychedelic electronic sounds which are multilayered and excellent. This gives the album an air of excitement already, and it is unique and interesting. In the second half are some flanger-affected vocals. Very trippy and awesome sounding. Eventually, drum rolls enter, being played along with the main melody. A great start to an interesting album so far.
Inertiatic ESP launches straight into this section with a massive drumroll, powerful guitars and singing that is not a million miles away from that of the Progressive Rock legends Yes. This has enough details and suspense to get you hooked on the music here. “Now, I’m lost!” is sung here repeatedly, which is a little repetitive, but this has enough details and imagination to grab your attention. The drumming on this song in particular is very underrated. The Mars Volta does Progressive Rock at its best since the 1970s. In the second half are some weird vocals that are treated, along with some discordant guitar. Everything on this album is quite amazing to listen to so far. A fantastic listening, one can hear the amazing singing by Cedric. Towards the end is a quieter section with Jimi Hendrix like tripped out guitars and smooth, calm singing. A great tune, it ends with some backward guitars and other intricate sounds to match, including cymbal hits. Excellent.
Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of) begins with some hi-hats, cyber noises and delayed drum sounds, before launching into a powerful and interesting piece of music that should appeal to those who dig Psychedelic and Progressive Rock. It sounds really gentle and mellow for music of this sort. Not bad for some guys who were in a Punk based band beforehand. A really awesome tune, it gets loud throughout the choruses and intense as well. Amazing tune to hear, this sounds extraordinarily good and interesting. Loud, punchy guitars and drums support this piece perfectly. A really awesome listening experience, there are some wild guitar solos and drum fills towards the middle that sound great. The music present is very artistic and imaginative, and it sounds great, even today. An awesome and powerful listening experience, the power and attention to detail on this song are really quite amazing. In the middle, this song leads into a quieter, mellow section with dual-tracked whispered vocals and harmonies together, which sounds unique and amazing, which is a fairly original musical idea. Soon enough, the band and the screamed vocals return in the second half to reveal the band’s Progressive Rock side. A really cool tune, this alternates between quiet/loud and stop/start sections, just like in Grunge music. Towards the end are some beautiful guitar textures and playing that is ridiculously tripped out and awesome. A great listen for a seven-and-a-half minute tune, this is great to lie back and close one’s eyes to. An excellent piece of music, it ends with guitar harmonics and some really spacey sounds to boot. Brilliant effort.
Tira Me A Las Aranas begins with some more eerie electronics before some different sounding acoustic guitar enters this tune. This is another short number that adds some interest to the album here, although not everyone will want to hear this as it is not a main track from the album. Still, it sounds great. It ends with a rising pitch-shifted note and segues into the next track.
Drunkship Of Lanterns is interesting from the beginning. Rolling bongo beats, delayed guitars and melodic singing launch this tune off very nicely. A seven minute long tune, this sounds ridiculously good. A powerful and interesting listening experience to hear, this is surreal and artistic music that is very colourful and different. This also has a more Hard Rock feel to the song at hand, and the loud guitars and drum rolls indicate this is the case. There is a guitar riff ripped straight off from Led Zeppelin but utilises it well. This is followed by a repeated guitar figure, before returning to the main song section at hand. A very great tune with some Robert Plant styled vocals, Led Zeppelin styled guitars and manic drum rolls, with a load of electronics, more people should hear this postmodern music. In the second half is a bit of a breakdown with some nasty sounding electronics and feedback. A really weird tune, the Led Zeppelin riff returns again. All in all, this is one of the most brilliant and ingenious releases in the 21st century so far. Some mad guitar soloing follows, and this tune powers along nicely. Towards the end is a sudden musical change, with some unusual beats and sounds. A fine listen, and more proof of the consistency of this album. Distorted drumming is right at the end, finishing this as it segues into the next tune.
Eriatarka begins with some distorted guitar harmonics, which sound really weird. The song quickly gets going into it and the music is really good. Indeed, this album is likely to have influenced later Psychedelic artists, such as Tame Impala. Nonetheless, this is a very trippy and unique piece of music that fits the album perfectly. A gorgeous song, there is a multitude of sounds galore, including guitars, bass guitars, drumming and organ. A very inspired tune to listen to, there is a good chorus here, followed by some eerie pitch-shifted sounds to boot. Towards the middle of this song are some interesting sounds and effects, including some very Pink Floyd sounding guitar work. Nonetheless, for a concept album based on gloomy circumstances, the album is oddly uplifting. Drum rolls and shouted vocals enter in the second half, both of which sound really great. The Mars Volta are excellent at this music, creating a listening experience unlike any other in postmodern history. There is a breakdown after this which sounds more restrained and mellow to listen to. Some extra sounds enter, before the band returns to the chorus. Another great and timeless piece of music, this sounds extremely surreal, psychedelic and above all, interesting. The song ends towards the end, leaving some random electronic sounds to conclude within the outro of this piece. A great tune. Once again, it segues into the next track.
Cicatriz ESP is a 12 minute long epic, featuring John Frusciante and is the centrepiece of this album. Some watery vocals promptly enter, and this tune gets going. A wonderful and awesome listen from the beginning, this is a great, groovy and interesting listen. Singing about some rather dark subjects, Cedric here paints himself as a new Rock singer extraordinaire for the 21st century. A false ending occurs early on in this song before a synth patch enters, and we return back to our musical mission. This does sound sharp, clever and amazing. An enjoyable tune to enjoy, the music sounds really awesome for people to listen to. Progressive Rock obviously wasn’t completely dead in the 21st century, as this album proves. The chorus is a combination of crashing sounds and textures that are really quite good. The music present is very adventurous and pretty sounding. There is another breakdown after a few minutes that sounds very King Crimson-ish. The combination of intricate drums and expressionistic guitar soloing here is nothing short of amazing. The Mars Volta certainly knows how to impress, and that is what they do here. A really different and interesting listening experience, this becomes a strange epic to hear. Almost the equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive, there is a neat breakdown in the middle, with only some electronic sounds to hear. It’s a bit strange, but nonetheless is worth hearing. These science fiction style sounds continue for some time, and this easily could have been on a Progressive Rock album from the 1970s. It sounds very eerie, almost like one is 2000 Light Years From Home. A decent and interesting piece of music, there are some interesting stereo panned sounds to add to this tune in the second half. Very much a great piece of Progressive Rock music, this cements this album as a good listen by The Mars Volta, and this song works tremendously well. In the last quarter, pounding drums re-enter, along with some woman tone styled Cream guitars. A wonderful listening experience, this is a real joy to hear, and it sounds quite awesome and amazing, even decades later. The instrumental section continues for a while, and it would be great to hear a live version of this song. A great listen all the same. Cedric resumes singing right at the end, with more Led Zeppelin styled guitar riffs. This is a sensational listen, and it does have magic in these songs. The ending has some loud and crashing guitars and drums to conclude with, along with pseudo-screamed vocals. It ends with some interesting electronic sounds to move on to the next track.
This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed is much shorter, at under five minutes in length. It begins with some weird guitars, which are very interesting and different. It quickly launches into a not-so-good section of guitar playing, and goes straight into a song that sounds rather disappointing, to be fair. This is an unfortunate part of the album, as it is noticeably weaker musically. In any case, this is not outright bad music, it just isn’t as good as what came before it. No need to skip this, as it is part of the overall concept here. A soul searching tune to listen to, this sounds really wonderful in its own way. Dual tracked guitar parts on different pickup positions are present in the second half. Cedric then returns to sing nicely as the suspense builds up very well. This is great music, and it sounds very much unlike anything else out there. Towards the end is a dramatic and pounding section of the chorus which is interesting, quickly followed by some great processed drums and electronic sounds to conclude. Interesting.
Televators begins with some sounds of birds chirping in the background, which sound very distant. Soon enough, some weird slide guitar enters, which sounds rather awful. Acoustic guitar follows, which is a bit better to hear. Sadly, this album seems to be burning out a little towards the end. Still, there are much worse albums than this out there. Cedric sings nicely here and shows that you don’t need to scream to get attention in the music world. Eventually, the chorus hits you and it sounds more song-ish this piece than some of the others on this album. The guitar parts in particular on this part of the album are fairly horrendous. Fortunately, this is easily overlooked with the overall concept and musicality of this album. In the second half are bongos, interesting guitars and smooth vocals to match. A good listen, but not a great listen. This is music that will most likely appeal to millennials, and older music fans will have difficulty enjoying this as it is not as good as some of the Progressive Rock legends of the past. Still, it’s okay for what it is. The lyrics are very self-conscious, and there is a bit of a strange mixture of bongo beats and spacey guitars that are electronically treated in the lengthy outro of this song. It ends with some awful sounds to conclude this track, which isn’t good.
Take The Veil Cerpin Text launches into it from the start, sounding somewhat like Public Image Ltd. The song gets going with some good guitars, heavy bass guitar and pounding drums. This tune is rather lengthy at nearly nine minutes long, but it sounds amazing regardless for what it is. Much more song like than an instrumental jam to conclude this decent album with, it is a good example of the variety that The Mars Volta could do. This sounds great in some ways, especially with the pitch-shifted breakdown. This launches back into the song section at hand, and this tune sounds really awesome and quite good. There are some interesting spacey Mellotron sounds towards the middle after the breakdown, and some other cool textures to listen to. A great and cool listen, but this eventually has some rather ordinary discordant guitar parts enter. This is totally unnecessary here, and near the middle, there is a jam section with drums with said awful guitar parts. Some deep bass lines then follow, which sound wonderful to hear in the breakdown, followed quickly by bongo beats, drums and other better guitar parts. Flaws and all, this album is very good and is something unique in the history of music. Rather catchy in the second half, it builds up gradually and nicely as a piece of music that sounds awesome and brilliant. This music sounds massively influenced by many Rock groups of the past. Towards the end, this jam section sounds nice and amazing, quickly relaunching back into the song section at hand. A good listen to enjoy, there are multitracked guitars galore towards the end, making a really cool and decent listening experience. Tremendous drum rolls and guitar fills, along with Cedric’s singing, finish this off. Good listen.
The Mars Volta have created a very good album that, although works well, does have a tendency to lose it with some discordant guitar parts present. Which is its singular, but major flaw. However, having said that these guys have created an otherwise decent listening experience that, although requires some patience, is strangely worth it. Should you listen to this album? Definitely, if you have the patience for fairly lengthy Progressive Rock styled songs. A good album that is fairly underrated.
Quirky, strange and tripped out.