The Mars Volta revived the concept album in 2005 with their cerebral opus Frances the Mute. The epic LP centered on the thoughts of a man seeking out his adopted parents.
Those musings were contained within a diary discovered by former Volta bandmate Jeremy Ward while he was employed as a repo man. Before Ward's 2003 death from an apparent overdose, he took it upon himself to finish the unknown writer's work. The band's frontman, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, later used the writings as a blueprint of sorts for Frances (see "Mars Volta's Conceptual Frances The Mute Speaks Volumes").
For the Volta's forthcoming conceptual offering, Amputechture, which hits stores September 12, Bixler-Zavala didn't rely on just one source of inspiration for his lyrics — there was plenty on his mind this time around.
"It's all loose, really," he explained. "I love the way that [Rod Serling's 1970s series] 'Night Gallery' had that common thread that it was a gallery, and every painting told a different story. I guess I'd like that to be true of this album, too. The subject matter's all different, but [the songs] do all come together in a strange way. Every song would be a different episode that kind of relates in the way that [Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 film] 'Magnolia' has all these different characters [who] all come back together in the end.
"There's the subject of the immigrant marches that were happening here," Bixler-Zavala continued. "And there were things I saw on the news, like the story about a woman who was killed by this priest because supposedly she was possessed."
That woman was a 23-year-old Romanian nun named Maricica Irina Cornici, who, according to news reports, believed she heard the devil talking to her. A monk bound Cornici to a cross, gagged her with a towel and left her in a dank room for three days without food. She died of suffocation and dehydration more than a year ago.
"That was sort of an inspiration to write about the Western phenomenon of incarcerating somebody if you think they're crazy, whereas in some parts of the world, like in South America, people like this woman would be considered a shaman," the singer said.
But that's not where it ends.
"This album's a commentary about the fear of God instead of the love of God, which goes hand-in-hand with Catholicism," he said. "To me, religion is the reason there is so much conflict in this world, and I think it's just so unnecessary to believe in this blue-eyed, white-bearded, white-haired God. Amputechture is my personal way of describing enlightenment, or just the celebration of this person who is a shaman and not a crazy person. It's about the pineal gland and how it has certain elements that mimic a DMT experience, and how we can come up with cures for cancer and AIDS if we're more in tune with what's going on in the rainforest."
Bixler-Zavala says the Volta started recording Amputechture last year while on tour with System of a Down (see "System Of A Down/ Mars Volta Tour Dates Announced"). Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez produced the LP, which features eight ethereal tracks.
"We're excited about this album, because I think a lot of people expected us to rest on Frances and keep promoting that," Bixler-Zavala said. "It's great to just keep going and throw new stuff out there. We have the kind of fanbase that demands that. But we're constantly working, or else we get bored."
Rodriguez-Lopez, who is working on music for Guillermo Arriaga's forthcoming film "The Night Buffalo" as well as his own, five-years-in-the-making movie, had a virtual library of ideas he brought to the table for Amputechture, which features the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante playing the majority of the album's guitar parts.
"We took an approach on this album of not letting everyone know what's going on with the music," Bixler-Zavala said. "Everyone went in and recorded their part right then and there. Frusciante learned his part five minutes before we'd go in to record it, and the entire album was recorded in big chunks. It's the closest thing to improvisation we can do."
This fall, the Mars Volta will open for the Chili Peppers on the band's North American tour, set to kick off August 11 in Portland, Oregon, and conclude November 5 in St. Paul, Minnesota (see "Red Hot Chili Peppers Reveal Stadium Arcadium Tour Dates"). Afterward, Bixler-Zavala said the Volta will stage their own U.S. headlining tour, which should commence before year's end, with dates running well into 2007.