The Mars Volta’s debut, “Deloused in the Comatorium” was one of the most amazing albums I’d heard for years. It somehow managed to combine the raw energy of punk with the complexity of full-blown prog-rock to produce something that completely transcended genre boundaries.
The followup pushes things even further. All the ingredients from “Deloused” are still here; soaring vocals, frenetic instrumental sections, incomprehensible song titles like “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus” and “Plant a nail in the navel stream”. But they’ve added more; now alongside the machinegun drums and Frippesque guitars we have string sections and mariachi trumpets.
The 75-minute running time is split into just five tracks, with lyrics as strange as anything by Jon Anderson or Pete Sinfield, but an order of magnitude darker; twisted and disturbing, they’re not the things audiences are going to sing along with. But this album’s not really about the lyrics, it’s about the music.
And what music! This disc is far varied that their debut. There’s “The Widow”, at seven minutes the shortest track on the album, strongly bluesy in a way that recall’s Muse’s version of “Feeling Good”. Elsewhere we get fleeting glimpses of the improvisational King Crimsons of the mid 70s and mid 90s, flashes of psychedelic-era Pink Floyd and blasts of anarchic sax and sci-fi noises that recall Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual”. Some might label the lengthy instumental sections of the epic “Cassandra Geminni” as self-indulgent, but I just can’t agree; there’s a hypnotic quality about them, and the quiet bits break up into instrumental anarchy just before the overstay their welcome.
Overall, a superb album, and proof that “Difficult second album syndrome” simply doesn’t happen to great bands.