The Mars Volta
(Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
The Mars Volta delivers solid sixth album with ‘Noctourniquet’
By Ben Nance
The Mars Volta is back to once again polarize the music world with their weirdness. Some will praise their technical brilliance and see them as innovators of rock; others will dismiss their overwrought salsa-prog songs as silly and self-indulgent. Since releasing their magnum opus “Frances the Mute” in 2005, the band has unfortunately fallen into the Tim Burton pattern, where every other release turns out to be a dud. Thankfully, their latest album “Noctourniquet” follows the highly disappointing “Octahedron,” so the pattern rules say this one has to be good.
If you don’t like The Mars Volta by now, then “Noctourniquet” will do little to change your mind. However, for fans that adored the audacious, aggressiveness of “The Bedlam in Goliath” and the melancholy hooks of “Frances the Mute,” there is a lot here to treasure. In opening track “The Whip Hand,” lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala lays in his reverberated vocals on top of frantic stop-and-go drums, while an unexpected dubstep bass line buzzes in the background. It’s a fresh surprise that shows the band’s willingness to evolve their sound into stranger electronic territories. They continue working outside their comfort zone on songs like “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound,” where their trademark eclecticism is temporarily abandoned and traded for something that resembles a commercial ballad. It’s the closest they’ll probably ever come to repeating “Televators.”
While there is plenty of frantic jamming to go around on “Noctourniquet,” as evident in the songs “Molochwalker” and “Dislexicon,” the album takes on an unusual nighttime gothic feel. I never thought I’d be comparing The Mars Volta to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but it’s hard not to think of Cave’s “Up Jumped the Devil” while listening to the dark howl of “The Malkin Jewel.” Lead guitarist and prolific songwriter, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, knows how to restrain his crazy licks at crucial musical moments, allowing room for the studio effects to shine. This has always been an admirable quality of The Mars Volta. Like the greatest and tightest prog-rock bands, they operate as a collaborative team, utilizing whatever sounds necessary to make each song odder than the last.
“Noctourniquet,” for all of its sonic power, feels overstuffed. It makes one wonder what great heights Zala and Rodriguez-Lopez could one day achieve if their goal wasn’t to always back themselves into a corner of unnecessary complexity. Still, this is a very fine, intricately textured album that warrants a purchase. Both genuinely interesting and cinematic, it proudly stands out in an endless sea of forgettable, underdeveloped indie releases.