The Mars Volta / Noctourniquet
Release Date: 27/03/2012
“I’m a landmine, so don’t you step on me!!!”
The progressive rock equivalent to Marmite, there appears to be little middle ground when it comes to The Mars Volta. Devotees of the frenzied, chaotic post-hardcore of At The Drive-In often baulk at the progressive, experimental, and free jazz-influenced sound that guitarist / producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer / lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala have continued to produce and evolve over the past decade. As an ardent fan of this band, it confuses me how The Mars Volta have amassed such a sizeable number of naysayers. Six albums in ten years is impressive by any bands standards. However, given the complexities of the personal relationships, music, and concepts of individual albums, there is no doubt that the creativity and productivity of The Mars Volta is breathtaking.
Apparently, the initial work on ‘Noctourniquet’ started immediately after the recording of ‘Octahedron’; the project was quickly put on hold following Bixler-Zavala’s assertion that he could no longer keep up with the productivity of his long-time collaborator. With Omar concentrating on his solo and collaborative work elsewhere, Cedric’s need for appropriate time to develop his lyrics ( and some changes in personnel) appears to have refreshed the band, who have gone on to produce this wonderfully complex yet accessible concept album, if that is ever a real possibility with The Mars Volta.
The concept? I can only surmise that the album follows the natural path of the life and travels of a being (human or otherwise: I am undecided). This view stems from Cedric Bixler-Zavala's references to the nursery rhyme Solomon Grundy within a number of interviews recently. My concept proposal is purely subjective but certainly makes sense to me (especially in this darkened room with my headphones on). As most fans would attest, the listening experience and deconstruction of concept, theme, and music is best described as not only subjective, but a genuine conversation stimulator.
All the tenets of The Mars Volta sound are here. Bixler-Zavala’s trademark vocal delivery, though more thoughtful and restrained, remains; the searing guitar tones of Rodriguez-Lopez are interspersed with acoustic guitar inflections accentuating the bands Latin roots. Additionally, the album seems to flow organically, in spite of the flurries of electronics throughout.
Opener ‘The Whip Hand’ feels like a statement of intent; a frenzied rebirth where I am unsure in which direction I will be drawn. The song leads me to a breakdown of bass-heavy synth, Bixler-Zavala attesting ‘That’s when I disconnect from you’. Lead single, ‘The Malkin Jewel’, with its scratchy dub guitar, bringing to mind the band’s dub side project De Facto, and almost Fugazi-esque rhythm sees Bixler-Zavala abandon his trademark soprano, opting for a brooding, menacing tone; this feels like the transitional point in the record (the Volta if you will).
‘Dyslexicon’, feels like vintage Mars Volta. Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics reference ancient prophecies of changes in planetary consciousness; Rodriguez-Lopez’ guitar seemingly let loose to flow alongside the the lyrical theme. ‘Molochwalker’ seems to be the natural successor to ‘The Malkin Jewel’ as second single from the record (despite being apparently written and recorded for the ‘Octahedron’ sessions): up-tempo and direct, showcasing Rodriguez-Lopez's prodigious guitar talents. The song is certainly the second turning point in the record, with the lyrics perhaps placing faith in change.
Much has been made of the At The Drive-In reunion shows and the possible effect on the long-term future of The Mars Volta. Personally, I hope the reunion shows are an exercise in mortgage paying, but if this album does herald a swansong, then what a way to bow out.
Writer: Rob Wallace