The Mars Volta are the most polarizing band of my lifetime. No other group has caused so much mindless devotion and vehement hatred in my quarter century on earth. It is either loved and praised for its mind-bending amalgamation of genres and sounds, or reviled and hated for its self indulgent tendencies passed off as progression. There is no middle ground: everyone falls into one of these two camps.
I, along with anyone else raised on bare bones punk rock, I suspect, fall into the second group of fans who wish that Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriquez-Lopez would hurl themselves off a cliff (or wish, at least, that they had stopped with At The Drive-In).
That being said, each Mars Volta album has always been able to spark some interest, generate some small good will. Despite all the dissonance, the gibberish, the swirling, meaningless clouds of noise for noise's sake, the endless bullshit of it all, each album has always had some redeeming quality. Be it fragmented pockets of actual songwriting (Ciatraz ESP, Drunkship of Lanterns off Deloused in the Comatorium), snippets of interesting guitar work (a number of songs off Frances the Mute) or the band just cutting through their progressive title and simply kicking some ass (Goliath off last year's The Bedlam in Goliath), TMV have always been at least marginally interesting, at least to the point that an album would warrant a handful of listens.
And then there was Octahedron, the band's latest album.
It's hard to pin down exactly what is so repulsive about this record. I mean, it sounds fine, which is to say it sounds like every other Mars Volta record: hyper active drums, ethereal guitars, bad high school poetry style lyrics delivered in a goofy falsetto, massive breakdowns of meaningless sound.
What's lacking here is any kind of interest. Octahedron sounds like a band going through the motions, making music out of obligation and not inspiration. Every note, every movement, every single element of every single song comes off as lazy and uninspired. It is as if the band said “Fuck it, this is good enough,” and released the first thing that came to mind. If the guys themselves can't even muster up some excitement, what are we listeners supposed to do?
It's as if the band can't even muster the energy to try and write new songs. Album opener Since We've Been Wrong sounds like a second-rate The Widow. Teflon plays like any track off Amputechture. Some bands write the same song over and over again because its all they know, but TMV have proved themselves talented enough to progress, even within their own brand of shitty “progressive rock.” This is not some pop-punk band using the only three chords they know. This band can do better, has done better. This is laziness.
Maybe I am being closed minded. I've already admitted that I don't like the band. Its possible that I am just totally missing the point, and Octahedron is a masterwork of rock so far above my head all I can do is bad mouth it. Still, every other Mars Volta album has jumped out at me at least once. This album passes by without a single interesting note, without one thing to engage a causal listener, devoid of anything worth going back to.
In a recent interview, Bixler-Zavala and Rodriquez-Lopez talk about a possible At The Drive-In reunion, calling such a thing unlikely given the amount of material they still want to make as The Mars Volta. Octahedron makes that claim extremely hard to believe. This is kind of album bands put out before a break up.