Posted by C.A. Bell on 06.24.2009
The Mars Volta shift gears, but can they reach the mainstream without upsetting their core?
Shortly after the release of the Mars Volta’s last album, The Bedlam in Goliath, in 2008, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was already talking about the band’s next release, deeming it ‘our acoustic album’. These were bold words coming from a band that has spent the last six years and four albums making its name on a merciless sonic assault. While I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call this an ‘acoustic’ album, Octahedron is definitely a shift from the band’s previous releases on several levels.
The album opens with the band’s second scheduled single for the release, “Since We’ve Been Wrong”. After a minute-long silent opening, the band’s shift in gears is absolutely apparent from the first note of this track. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala exhibits (gasp) restraint throughout the track as the band create a smooth, flowing environment that makes the ballad, dare I say, radio-worthy. The next two songs are standard rock fare mostly, but are still striking because you find your head nodding, in place of its usual banging. By the end of the album’s fourth track, “With Twilight as My Guide”, the Mars Volta achieve a first for their career, inducing an actual, sustained sense of calm. The track is almost reminiscent of Queensryche balladry.
But not all is as it seems on Octahedron. Tossing the listener out of their lulled state and into the chaotic world of the Mars Volta, “Cotopaxi”, named after a high peaked volcano in the Andes Mountains, literally erupts out of nowhere. This track is the first single being released in Europe and is easily the hardest rocker on the record. After “Cotopaxi”, the album takes a decided downturn. “Desperate Graves” seems a bit like a step back when compared to the rest of the album and “Copernicus” is downright boring next to the albums other ‘soft’ tracks. Octahedron closes strong with “Luciforms”, a track that almost sounds like “No Quarter” upon introduction, but suddenly blazes forward as Thomas Pridgen suddenly decides to destroy his drum set.
While much is going to be made about Octahedron being a slower paced album than standard Volta fare, there is no way you would mistake any of these tracks for anything but the Mars Volta. This isn’t so much a shift like Alice in Chains’ Dirt was to Jar of Flies, as it is Tool’s Undertow to Aenima. The album is certainly much more palatable to the average music fan, which is probably going to be the biggest complaint from die-hard Volta fans. This isn’t an album that the listener has to sit and study, which is what I feel a good portion of Mars Volta fans appreciate most about the band. Octahedron feels less like a whole production than Frances the Mute and De-Loused in the Comatorium did, and is FAR much less work. A fact that is accentuated by the band's slimming down after Bedlam with the departures/oustings of Paul Hinojos and Adrián Terrazas-González. The streamlined sound takes away from the wall of sounds that sometimes seemed confusing on previous Volta albums.
The 411: The easiest first listen from The Mars Volta yet. This is a smooth and interesting transition for the band, but the album's biggest flaw is that it FEELS transitional. This sounds like the album that gets made before the truly great album is released.
Final Score: 7.5
Hey Paz, who do you think you are posting reviews here? This is my territory