Sound — 8
Anyone who has heard the Mars Volta will probably understand that it is quite difficult to define their musical "style" or to fit them into a particular genre. The two founders of the band, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala initially split from their original band "At The Drive-In" to go in new directions with their music, something which they have certainly done with great success in the years since then. This album is the follow up to their last studio album, Frances the Mute. The band has taken yet another direction with their music. Tracks on this album range from Acoustic songs to Progressive Rock. Previous Mars Volta albums have been criticised for Omar's guitar parts, which although impressive, have at times dominated over the other instruments. This album offers a fairer perspective of the talents of all members of the band. Bass and percussion solos exist on a number of tracks. There is far less ambient noise included in songs and in between tracks compared with Frances the Mute. I would say that this album is far similar to De-Loused in The Comatorium (the bands debut album) that it is to their previous release (Frances The Mute).
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics to songs on all of the bands albums have been cryptic and enigmatic compositions of metaphors. This album offers no change. There does not appear to be a central concept to the album, although each song obviously a story or meaning, and Cedric has mentioned his influences in interviews, I have been unable to find anything linking all of the songs together. Vocalist Cedric often alternates between singing in Spanish and English, something which has been done on previous releases and which offers a welcome change for those seeking something new. Cedric seems to have surpassed himself this time, even the Spanish lyrics have proved to be memorable to myself and friends (none of us speak Spanish). I must emphasise that this is not an album for those who enjoy catchy lyrics or something which can be easily sung along to. The structure of the songs is often free-verse, with no familiar chorus. They often resemble one long story.
Overall Impression — 8
The first track, Vicarious Atonement, provides an excellent opening. It serves to introduce the listener to the album. The synthesized sounds at the start, panning left and right, followed by Omars improvisation on guitar instantly grabs the listeners attention. The lyrics are enigmatic but certain lines touch the listener. The backing vocals (also sung by Cedric) consisting of gentle humming and singing of notes are excellent. The hauntingly beautiful 'Asilos Magdalena' stood out the first time I listened to the album all the way through. Sung completely in spanish, it puts an incredible focus on Cedrics voice, the guitar accompaniment perfectly accentuates the emotion of the song and the changes in tempo between the verses and the chorus work very well. No translation is needed, if one were provided then the lyrics would probably be just as cryptic as the other songs, the real beauty of the song is the emotional way in which it is sung. Each song has it's own individual feel, reflecting the theme or concept that it is attempting to express. There is definitely nothing monotonous or boring about this album, each person should be able to find a track that appeals to them in particular, I say this to emphasize the diverse nature of this album. I would say that this album, when compared to other Mars Volta releases, ranks above 'Frances the Mute'. It is slightly below, or on a par with 'De-Loused In The Comatorium', depending on the listeners taste in music. 'De-Loused' would deserve a 9 rating in my opinion, so I am giving this one an 8 just to distinguish that there is a difference, although only a very slight one!