Review Summary: The Mars Volta reflect on past ventures and fuse them into a new sound.
A Supernova of anarchical psychedelia. Sounds so delicate in nature that they can induce a hypnotic ambience, as easily as they can descend into a more intense eruption of ferocious instrumentation. Meditative voyages exploring the realms of not only the music at hand, but a personal odyssey where the musician discovers their full potential, and then goes even further. And all of these different musical approaches are often decorated with cryptical lyricism which are often expressed in ominous and metaphorical ambiguity- This is the The Mars Volta, or at least how they chose to project themselves for the world.
The main creative force behind The Mars Volta has always been the collaboration between, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, and throughout the years we have seen these two musicians evolve in such a way that is rarely seen. From their origins as members of renowned Punk band, At The Drive-In, to their brief time as the Dub/Reggae outfit, De Facto, and now as the composers of the Progressive musical act, The Mars Volta. In the past decade we have seen The Mars Volta compose an illustrious discography. From their early orchestrations of Psychedelia, yet aggressive in nature, the music displayed an emphasis on atmospheric compositions. In their latter efforts the band begun to exhibit a much more experimental agenda, embracing their Progressive Rock influences as ambient decorations begin to play much more prominent roles. But their music often incorporated elements of Jazz, as the musicians developed a connection with their instruments and letting their hands and fingers translate the passion from their souls into surrealistic performances consisting of sounds so versatile ranging from delicate ballads, to intense explosions of musical improvisation. and of course, there is the voice of The Mars Volta, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, whose voice has a such a range that can at times sound ethereal and gentle, to a malevolent roar of vivid passion.
But since the release of Octahedron
, new ideas were beginning to formulate and The Mars Volta took themselves to different paths. Octahedron is the album that was most perceptible because it is everything that The Mars Volta never was. The band had begun to strip themselves of everything that once made them so easily distinguishable. The music begun embracing a more traditional approach, behaving in a normal fashion and diverting from their usual orchestrations that presented themselves like a supernova of sounds. In other words, The Mars Volta were trying out what it's like to be normal, to make music that is ordinary and easier to grasp. What is most ironic is that this was a band that people loved because they were different, but the one time they experimented with being ordinary- people turned on them. Some fans opinionated that The Mars Volta had "sold out", others expressed that the band had explored every realm of Progressive music and the only thing left to experiment with was, inevitably, normality. But now, after running out of ways to surprise their fans with new directions, what is there left to do? What comes next?
Of course, it's no secret that the band's main composer and visionary has always been it's lead guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. And aside from his work with The Mars Volta, he has begun to explore his own musical ambitions, though the two sides often interact. Omar's solo releases have often served as a window into the direction of where he was going to take The Mars Volta on upcoming albums. And if we refer to the recent albums that Omar has released under his solo moniker, we can see that Omar has diverted from the more improvisational and Jazz influenced style, and has embraced a much more restrained sound. Noctourniquet
truly reflects the compositions of Omar's Un Escorpión Perfumado
. In Un Escorpión Perfumado, we find Omar fusing the improvisational atmosphere of his past works with a pop-musical structure. There is a significant absence of moments of energetic improvisation that once dominated the overall sound of Omar's albums. But now, the music is orchestrated with restrain as a barrage of instruments work together to create a deranged sense of psychedelia.
Noctourniquet is an amalgamation of everything we have already heard from Omar and Cedric in the past. Instead of actually evolving into a different musical approach, we see The Mars Volta regressing into past ventures and fusing these past tendencies into a new sound. A song like,"Dyslexicon"
, displays the typical paradigm for the album. Noctouriniquet exhibits the traditional musical structure of it's predecessor, Octahedron. It's songs are composed in a Pop-oriented orchestration but the approach to the overall sound of the music reflects the experimental nature of their earlier albums, particularly De-Loused in the Comatorium
. The album does introduce some new influences, or at least some we haven't quite heard in a long time. In songs like "Imago"
we see that electronic decorations play a much more prominent role in Noctourniquet than in previous efforts, drawing a strong influence from their days in the Dub-Reggae act, De Facto. Instead of each instrument taking their turn in the spotlight, like in the past efforts from The Mars Volta, we find that they are instead working together to create a dense layer of sounds that create an atmosphere of ambient chaos all around, yet it's all coordinated exquisitely.
Noctourniquet is driven by a different philosophy than their previous work, and that philosophy is that just because these compositions are not as overly experimental as their earlier efforts does not make them any less artistic, quite the contrary. A song like "Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound"
displays a typical orchestration, and is completely stripped of all the numerous psychedelic effects that overran their music in the past. But because it's so plain, because it doesn't contain all of those fancy effects is the very reason it's so effective. "Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound"
is the very song we never expected a band like The Mars Volta to create. No one could have predicted this. Within its simplicity, this song displays an ethereal delicacy, yet in its progression reveals a slightly more aggressive side. Perhaps reflecting the euphoric sensation of being in love, and the frustrations that a romantic relationship can produce.
But don't worry, there are moments were Noctourniquet reassures us that we are indeed listening to The Mars Volta. "Molochwalker"
, with all of it's complex musicianship and elevated pace, desperately trying to convince us that the ferocity that once drove The Mars Volta is still well preserved inside them. But yet it presents itself in such a restrained manner, that it's almost hard to believe. And now, we arrive to the imminent question; "Is Noctourniquet as good as it's predecessors?"
Well, it depends on the hopes you had for this album. As unprofessional as it may appear, I can't help but express my own initial disappointment when I first heard this album. I was hoping that in this album, The Mars Volta would return to their original style, having us descend into those musical voyages of progressive instrumentation. Appreciation for the earlier work by The Mars Volta often had to grow for the average listener because their music was so experimental, with so much to have to grasp and understand. But now, we the fans who fell in love with the very things that made this band so bizarre, have to learn to understand these new unfamiliar textures of normality. To accept this album for what it is, or more accurately, for what it isn't- The "old" Mars Volta. If you, the fan, are hoping to hear Omar shred on the guitar like in The Bedlam In Goliath, or lengthy instrumental voyages reminiscent of Amputechture, this will surely be a lamenting experience for you. But to those who admire The Mars Volta for exploring different realms within musical genres and expanding their sound into new creations, this may be the album for you.