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The Career and Releases of The Mars Volta

Updated on September 2, 2014

Introduction

The Mars Volta was a progressive rock band based in El Paso, Texas, United States. Throughout their existence, the band has been known for their incorporation of many different styles, including: Latin music, jazz, hardcore music, and just plain weirdness. The band was formed in 2001 partially from the shattered remains of relatively popular post-hardcore outfit known as At the Drive-In. The Mars Volta's lineup changed often throughout the band's 11 year lifetime, leaving At the Drive-In guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and At the Drive-In vocalist, Cedric Bixler-Zavala as the band's only constant members.

The entirety of The Mars Volta's discography was written by Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez, with Rodriguez-Lopez doing the entire instrumental arrangement and Bixler-Zavala the lyrics and vocal arrangement. The combination of their talents has proven to be very distinct; Rodriguez-Lopez being known for his cacophonous and very odd arrangements and Bixler-Zavala for his metaphorical and high vocabulary lyrics, and his outstanding vocal performance (seriously, it doesn't even sound like he's using falsetto when singing extremely high notes). The band released a total of 7 completely original works from 2002 to 2012, six of these being studio albums and one being an EP. Keep in mind that the band could still reform in the future and that this list could become outdated at some point.

Tremulant (EP)

Tremulant is The Mars Volta's first release ever, and contains only three songs, totaling up to about 20 minutes overall. All of the EP's vocal content sounds highly distorted, leaving the lyrics as mostly unintelligible. Perhaps this is meant to go along with the rest of the instruments' dream-like feel that occurs throughout the entirety of the EP. But it would likely not change much regarding the perception of the songs' meanings if the vocals were intelligible since most people would not even understand what exactly Bixler-Zavala is singing about.

The EP opens with ambient and loud track known as "Cut That City." The track begins with some weird sounds that plunge first-time listeners into "what is this?" land that last for about two minutes only to be interrupted by a complex guitar part that then leads into the song's main part. Next, "Concertina" begins with a guitar melody that sounds as if it's meant to soundtrack a human with inept motor. This guitar soon becomes accompanied by the dreary lyrics of Bixler-Zavala, a xylophone, and the other standard rock music instruments. The song eventually shifts into some very emotionally driven sections and then ends on a somewhat drab note. The final track, "Eunuch Provocateur" closes the EP with more distortion, albeit in a more disturbing way. This is because the final half of this song is composed of repetitive beats being held up by voice samples being played backwards, one of them being "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" being read aloud, which comes off as unsettling at times.

Tremulant cover art.
Tremulant cover art. | Source

De-Loused in the Comatorium

To me, The Mars Volta's first full-length release, De-Loused in the Comatorium is the band's magnum opus. This is not only because of the album's astounding coherence relative to the band's other releases, but also because of the lyrics and their supposed meaning. The album is a concept album based on the suicide of Julio Venegas, ( known as the fictional character, Cerpin Taxt, in the album) a friend of Bixler-Zavala. The story deals with Cerpin and his apparent dissatisfaction with life which leads to him taking drugs that put him in a coma (hence the word "comatorium" in the title). Once Cerpin awakes, he decides to jump to his death.

As to the actual musical composition of De-Loused, it is in no way boring and no two tracks sound the same.This album also has very little Latin influence, unlike the band's three succeeding albums. It is definitely something most alternative rock fans should listen to at some point, even if they think that it might not be "their thing."

De-Loused in the Comatorium cover art.
De-Loused in the Comatorium cover art. | Source

Frances the Mute

Frances the Mute is the second LP by The Mars Volta. Probably the most notable thing regarding the structure of this album is the fact that only one of the tracks, The Widow, is less than ten minutes long. Of course this may seem like a daunting task for those who are not used to progressive music, but in time, you may come to find that a song being long does not necessarily mean that it is boring or pretentious, but that it is just a song that happens to be longer than normal.

Although, I do have a major complaint with the length of the last song on the album, "Cassandra Gemini", as it does not feel like it should be 32 minutes long. This is because the song, as a whole does not really do much and it doesn't feel as if it actually goes anywhere during its time. Oddly enough, it does feel like the different parts contained within the song don't have any transitions between them, giving off the vibe as if it should have been split into two or three songs. However, the rest of the four tracks are all quite exemplary, especially "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" which I see as one of the greatest songs ever written by the band, due to its dynamic and often tense shifts in overall tone. Frances the Mute is ultimately a very slow, difficult collection that may take some time to get into, but the time spent "getting into it" will probably be worth it.

Frances the Mute cover art
Frances the Mute cover art | Source

"Best" Mars Volta Release

Which of the Mars Volta's releases do you enjoy the most?

See results

Amputechture

Perhaps the most redeeming quality of Amputechture is its ability to sound far more unpleasant sounding than anything else to ever have been released under The Mars Volta's name. Most of the album's eight tracks seem to be trying way harder to make the user feel uncomfortable than the amount of effort actually needed to do so. From the lewd lyrics of "Meccamputechture", to the backwards chorus on "El Ciervo Vulnerado", Amputechture is by far the most difficult of The Mars Volta's releases, in terms of actually being able to stand the music.

The band, in Amputechture, just seems to abandon all forms of emotional appeal that were so relevant in all of their previous releases that it in ways feels like a step backward from them. However, "Asilos Magdalena" and "Viscera Eyes" are able to hold quite well on their own, both of which being able to utilize some relatively new ideas from the band. Specifically "Asilos Magdalena" manages to trump all of the other songs on the album in terms of uniqueness due to its almost zero percussion and its surprising amount of emotion."Viscera Eyes" doesn't appear too interesting during its first few minutes, but it completely manages to throw this remark on its head by the song's conclusion. In terms of overall enjoyment, I don't think Amputechture is really worth your time unless you're in it just for the album's better tracks.

Amputechture cover art.
Amputechture cover art. | Source

The Mars Volta's Releases

Release name
Release Date
# of songs
Length (minutes:seconds)
Tremulant
April 2, 2002
3
19:29
De-Loused in the Comatorium
June 24, 2003
10
60:59
Frances the Mute
March 1, 2005
5
76:57
Amputechture
September 12, 2006*
8
76:04
The Bedlam in Goliath
January 29, 2008
12
75:45
Octahedron
June 23, 2009
8
50:03
Noctourniquet
March 26, 2012
13
64:31
*Amputechture was released on September 8, 2006 in Germany and September 11, 2006 in the rest of Europe

The Bedlam in Goliath

The Bedlam in Goliath is a release by The Mars Volta that attempts to expound on the more punk, jazz and latin elements of the band while the lengthy, sometimes self-indulgent, passages of their previous releases take a back seat. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since a different side of the band is allowed to show, with just as much care and detail contained as usual. There are still a lot of alien and quirky elements in The Bedlam in Goliath. The album also displays some funk influences, especially in the vocal style of Bixler-Zavala, which make The Mars Volta feel like a completely different band from what they once were. It would be a mistake to pass up The Bedlam in Goliath, as there will probably be nothing anywhere close to sounding like it in the musical world to be released in the future.

The Bedlam in Golitah cover art.
The Bedlam in Golitah cover art. | Source

Octahedron & Noctourniquet

To me, Octahedron and Noctourniquet, the band's final two releases, do not really hold up that well as what is typically expected of alternative rock music. In fact, When I initially listened to both of these albums a few times after their releases, I quickly decided to never listen to either of them again. This is because I felt that all of the depth and weirdness that existed in all of their other work was completely absent from both of these releases, which just made them come off feeling really monotonous. I suggest you stay away from both of these albums, unless you really want to see just why they are supposedly so bad or an opinion from someone else convinces you that they are actually worth your time.

Speak of the Devil...

Conclusion

The Mars Volta has definitely left a distinct mark within the domain that is alternative music, even if a lot of people might despise this band, there are probably just as many or more people who have become enamored with the cooperative efforts of Omar Rodriquez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The two will likely continue to make music together until the day that one of them finally throws in the towel.

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