Yo, this be Reuben. I’ve been listening to mostly Mars Volta recently, and for good reason, because it’s damn amazing music. I reviewed The Bedlam In Goliath and bid it the “Greatest Album of All Time”, which might have spoiled the order of this list but oh well, you probably asked for it. The reason I’m doing this list is because after that album my ordering of ’em is hazy, and I’d like to decide a solid order and write some more about this brilliant band. If you don’t already know them, they’re a mental American prog rock band known for their weirdness along with their insane energy, with Omar Rodriguez Lopez doing all the orgasmic guitar solos and Cedric Bixler Zavala sounding a little bit high-pitch. They’re better than they probably sound, trust me. You can listen to what I think is the best song on each album, in fact; I’ll put Youtube links on each album art for what I think is the best song on the album. Even Milo (The Pleb) got into ’em. Without further adieu, Imma ranking these Mars Volta albums from worst to best.
Tremulant EP (2002)
Yeah, I’m including this EP, why not. Tremulant EP was the first studio recording by The Mars Volta that got onto a CD, and it’s memorable, instrumentally sound, but was recorded at a time when the band were just getting on their feet, when they didn’t quite know what they wanted to play. It mixes the unrelenting punk of At the Drive In and the experimental funk prog stuff of The Mars Volta in an intriguing handful of songs, where the progression of the music of At the Drive In to The Mars Volta can be seen through the change in music between Cut That City – a mental punk song – and Eunuch Provocateur – a high energy prog song. This transformation across the sounds of the two bands was probably intentional, come to think of it, but it just doesn’t sound as groovy, refined or vocally impressive as future Volta was going to. It’s a shame such an interesting little record is so hard to get hold of nowadays.
The last Volta album, and by far the worst LP by the band, Noctourniquet is still brilliant, just not quite the same incredible music as they were writing in the years prior. It’s an album with its flaws, and one that took me about six listens to start loving. Its spacey synth driven sound with Cedric’s newly low-pitched vocals along with its removal of Ikey Owens’ extreme energy on the keyboards and the new sound drums from Deantoni Parks take a while to get used to. However, I eventually found that Noctourniquet is full of gems: Molochwalker, The Malkin Jewel and Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound all stand as Mars Volta greats. The album is a result of Omar taking a different stance on life after his mother died, as he decided to stop being a bossy arse, basically, and let Cedric do the writing for once, and work on a record more collaboratively. The end result is interesting, as it’s radically different to previous Volta, but brings back some punk and some extra funk here and there to make an ultimately great album, if lacking the grandeur of previous works by the band.
Frances the Mute (2005)
As soon as Cygmund…Vismund Cygnus gets into its swing, you know what you are in for with Frances the Mute. Insane stuff. The Mars Volta knew what they were doing with this record. They were blasting every other mainstream record to the ground and shocking the Billboard 200 with explosive jazz fusion awesomeness never seen or heard before on such a big stage. It’s an album full of brilliance from each musician at hand, erupting with energy into a bout of incredible prog rock. For me, unlike many Volta fans, however, I think it is a little let down by some incessant noodling, which at a few points can get pretty grating, while the whole thing can feel a little directionless and overwhelming at points. At the very least, though, it is very hard to lose interest in this record as it drills through your ear-holes with all its madness. True too, it’s very hard not to get goosebumps when listening to The Widow — probably the band’s strongest and most accessible single.
Let’s bring it down. Let’s bring it waaaay down. Octahedron ain’t quite as scary as Frances the Mute, don’t worry. The end of an era for The Mars Volta before they changed in the 2010’s, Octahedron is a gentle flick compared to most else the band had recorded before it. Nonetheless, it still has the same kind of atmosphere as previous albums and manages to blast the eardrums with a nice lil’ selection of jazzy prog rock goodies ranging from the mental Cotopaxi to the melody driven Halo of Nembutals to the more Frances-y finisher Luciforms – the song containing possibly the best guitar solo of all time. These wondrous masterpieces are set apart by gentle tracks and a couple of fantastic rock songs in Teflon and Desperate Graves, in a soft, refined and immensely enjoyable Volta listen which really showcases the range of the band’s songwriting ability as their music grew more patient. It’s also home to what I think is Cedric’s strongest vocal performance to date, and it’s more accessible due to the fact its a little more concise. Plus, I should probably mention that it was the first Volta album I listened to.
Following in the foot steps of Frances the Mute, Amputechture sounds like a weird-ass explosion just like its 2005 predecessor. It betters its former, however, with a more grounded and consistent tone and four masterpieces, a selection of some of my favourite songs, in Day of the Baphomets, Tetragrammaton, Meccamputechture and Viscera Eyes. Each song into their own, all four contain relentless and masterful drum beats from Jon Theodore – the best Volta drummer – and ridiculously skilled and constant guitarwork from Omar, who probably got a little too much joy out of it by the sounds of it, providing layers and layers of guitar heaven. Moreover, with a huge dosage of saxophones and John Frusciante’s introduction into the band as a full member, it’s got so, so much grandeur to behold — not to mention a very interesting, sinister atmosphere not too dissimilar to its successor, The Bedlam in Goliath. Finally, we see Juan Alderete and Ikey Owens truly come into their own on this behemoth of a record.
De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
Completely unorthodox and off-beat, grooving and funking along, De-Loused In the Comatorium comes oh so close to the top spot. For me, the best debut album in history and in my top four albums of all time, De-Loused is full of energy and expert instrumentals to the brim, sounding like the speakers are about to blow up in the overt awesomeness of the record’s incredible sound. The album containing their strongest melodies, it showed an immense maturity from such young musicians at the time, while its build up and blow up sections are perfectly on point throughout — and noodling doesn’t do anything to mar the experience at all. Masterful six minute+ songs ranging from Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of) to Cicatriz ESP and to Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt all come under the same vein as the best of Amputechture; but it’s the songs in between that make De-Loused the consistent and constantly fantastic album it is — and not all mental. The album just makes me smile from start to finish.
The Bedlam In Goliath (2008)
You thought I liked De-Loused! MAN, I love Bedlam. Yeah, De-Loused is a masterpiece, but The Bedlam In Goliath is even better. It absolutely explodes in your face like a jazz funk orgy brought to you by the best prog band. Bursting with energy from every orifice and able to cripple listeners with its unrelenting FUNK, The Bedlam In Goliath is an album no-one is likely to forget. Twisting and turning in every direction possible, every song is just as much a roller-coaster ride as the one before it – aside from perhaps the vital Tourniquet Man, which allows a breath to be taken as the tone of the album changes. I think the key to what makes Bedlam in Goliath so good is its backstory and atmosphere. It’s got a fascinating and creepy ouija board-riddled story at its roots and with all the awesome effects and sound manipulation, alongside the dissonant guitar stabs, wind sections and lyrics that tell that biblical ghost story, there is a huge and unique atmosphere which adds to the music so much — don’t listen to Soothsayer when you’re alone in a dark room, kids. And oh, John Frusciante makes huge inputs in this one, just when you thought Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s masterfulness on his Orgasm Machine 3000 wasn’t enough. The Bedlam In Goliath is, to me, the greatest album of all time.
Listen to it now. What the heck, listen to all of it, you know you want to.
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