June 23, 2009 by Matt
With each passing record, the musical collective known as The Mars Volta pushes, stretches, and downright pole vaults the boundaries of music. Creating often challenging records where the listener can get swept up in a prog utopia of vocal howls, guitar squeaks, drum bashes and full on freak-out moments. To this day, it’s still pretty mind blowing to know a band like TMV get away with as much as they do sonically and still survive the major label machine.
With each album the main songwriting duo of Cedric-I-have-multiple-middle-names-Bixler- Zavala and Omar-I-add-another-middle-name-with-every-record-Rodriguez–Lopez opt for a different theme; usually drawing inspiration from a story or personal experience to wrap an album around. Octahedron indeed does have a theme but the group’s muse this time is the number “8”.
Long before releasing Octahedron, the band stated plans to head into a new direction on this album; calling it an “acoustic release,” a phrase that needs to be either A) better explained to the band or B) be taken extremely loosely. TMV are smart people so we’ll assume it’s the latter.
The first minute of the intro track “Since We’ve Been Wrong” is near silence as it lunges into Zavala’s pained melodic vocals. Not only does Zavala croon more for the next 3 minutes, when the band finally comes in full force with drummer Thomas Pridgen leading the charge, you are caught by surprise as to how fast this part of the movement ends, and that’s speaking on behalf of a 7 minute plus song.
Most other songs on the record like “Teflon,” and “With Twilight As My Guide,” follow the same suite, minimal on the spastic and epic freakouts the band is known for and loaded with more subtle tones to the record. Octahedron is heavy on Zavala’s voice that has an undercurrent of (dare I say) fragility to it, with the rest of the band acting as more of a compliment to the harmonies of his voice.
Then by the time the album’s first single “Cotopaxi” begins, the band is back to their old tricks. Displaying a sonic blast of spastic rhythm-heavy guitar, pounding drums and bass, its 4 alarm fire time and The Mars Volta are burning on all cylinders.
But overall, the album is minimal on the band’s trademark dizzying building crescendos. Opting for a subtler approach that works extremely well but it’s hard to say if this is the best Mars Volta album because of this. Mainly because there are going to be two reactions to the album…“What happened to the epic rock meltdowns?” and “Wow, there are actually songs on this record.” Depending on what side of the fence you fall will determine how much you like Octahedron. Regardless, there’s still no denying The Mars Volta is an amazing collection of musicians that’s about as talented and challenging as they come in music today.