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The Mars Volta - Scabdates Review
by Mark Hensch

Recorded over their 2004-2005 tour, The Mars Volta's Scabdates is less of a live album and more of an experience; if you thought you knew the Mars Volta before, think again.

Scabdates may have first been recorded on a mobile studio, but that never changes the fact the listener feels like they're seeing one great, big, Mars Volta jam session. Clocking in at a juggernaut length of 72 minutes and 54 seconds, Scabdates tests the patience, nay, the endurance of any listeners. The songs on offer here are like nothing else on this Earth; the Mars Volta are truly in a league of their own. To make things ever more confusing, most of the songs are elongated, meandering, almost jam-band styled versions of older material. The entire album has a very "brand-new" feel to it, in that you never know what's coming next even if certain things sound like the actual songs the titles are meant to be associated with.

The album has few frills in terms of packaging, but it really doesn't matter. A short note from Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez explains the recording process, and a huge list of the Mars Volta's team of instrumentalists is given. Hypnotic pictures of the band playing live are broken up with images of strange, eerie surrealism. The main treat on offer here though is undoubtedly the art of music.

"Abrasions Mount the Timpani" is wicked instrumentation that would do Fantomas proud. It makes little if any sense, and it slowly builds into one of my favorite Mars Volta songs, "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt." "Taxt" has been split into a set of on the cusp halves, on the cusps as things seem to happen without any warning or prior thought. Cedric Bixler hits helium highs on this track I didn't know he had, and the song's spontaneous nature makes it seem like you're there, watching it all unfold like the unveiling of a society-altering invention. I thought that "Cerpin Taxt" would be a highlight, but "Caviglia" completely blew me out of my chair. The song builds into an insane rock 'n roll crest, the likes of which are impossible to describe without hearing it first. "Concertina" is a garish intermission of controlled, weird, ambiance.

The epic "Haruspex" stumbles and twists all over the place like a neon tapeworm; by song's end there's no doubt that something special is at hand here. The five part retelling of "Cicatriz" is something that I could never hope to give justice; I won't even attempt to convey the sheer, grand scope of this neuron-melting song.

Scabdates could go on to be a very important live album. To be honest, I typically dislike live albums as it is very hard for some bands to capture (in a live setting) what makes them so interesting to me in the first place. Despite it's arduous length, and the gargantuan amount of sonic destruction it throws at you, I'd recommend Scabdates not only to Mars Voltans but to others as well. The crowd on hand here is obviously in awe; it seems like they're silent in all the right places, and cheering just when you, the listener, would find it most comfortable to whoop in joy. The best part though is seeing a group of exceedingly visionary, talented musicians tear down the walls of everything modern music has in many ways devolved into. As I said earlier, Scabdates is less of a live album, but more of something else. By this disc's fist-pumping end, I'd swear it was nothing short of a revolution in the music world.

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The Mars Volta - Scabdates

Label:Universal Records

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