Review Summary: Wait, wasn't this supposed to be an acoustic album!? Why are there drums and stuff? And why is it so good?
Here is the thing about Octahedron
: it’s pretty much what EVERY PERSON WHO HATES THE MARS VOLTA HAS WANTED THEM TO MAKE FOR YEARS. The Mars Volta (and their fans by proxy) have prided themselves on being ridiculously spazzy, taking progressive music to places that while perhaps not new, that have not been fully explored. Who can forget the progression “Drunkship of Lanturns” goes through, or the freak out after the chorus of “Day of the Baphomets”" Despite this, detractors have always bitched that the songs are too long; a revolving door of guitar wanking, nonsensical lyrics and superfluous song structure that isn’t fit for human consumption. 5 songs, 77 minutes" What the hell! So, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and the gang have crafted a “pop” album of sorts, hinging about 2/3rds as long as nearly every other record they’ve done and much less prone to random bouts of ridiculous proggyness.
Hailed as their “acoustic” album, one could say its an “acoustics” album; the album is completely driven by the mood and soundscape it creates. This is a hail back to “Early era” (Deloused in the Comatorium
and Frances the Mute
) Volta, an album completely driven by its concept instead of ridiculous bridges and jazz freak outs. While the lyrics are as immediately indecipherable as always, Octahedron
seems to revolve around murder and deceit, and it is reflected in the sound of the record. Dark and brooding, Octahedron
succeeds in creating tense atmospheres throughout. “Teflon” is arguably the most dense and heavy song the group has written, with thick bass and restrained, but intense drumming from Pridgen, while “Desperate Graves” is beautifully unhinged, similar to sections of “Cicatriz ESP”.
Being their pop record, one has to assume singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala will have a major role upon its ultimate quality, and such an assumption would be true. While the last two Mars Volta records have seen Cedric overdub his voice perhaps a little bit too much (often three or more times with the same exact voice effect), here he goes back to the more natural singing styles of his earlier work. There are still the overdubs and voice effects, but much more of it is clean singing, and the heights he reaches on “Halo of Nembutals” and “With Twilight as My Guide” are on the level of “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus” and “Cassandra Gemini”. When he does make extensive use of effects, its more than just random splattering; “Copernicus” is a sort of auto-tuned, at some points electronica-derived ballad that works incredibly well.
It’s still a Mars Volta record, so expecting some ridiculous parts is required. “Cotopaxi” is pretty much the link to their previous record “The Bedlam in Goliath”, featuring a thunderous guitar riff and insane drumming and a frantic pace. So what if they haven’t come THAT far from “Inertiatic E.S.P”, it works so well. However, generally the playing on this album is focused, and the fact that Omar “composes” all of the music himself is far more apparent than ever before. When the full band comes in on “Since We’ve Been Wrong” it is the opposite of what people would expect; an occurrence that makes complete tonal sense. Brilliant!
In the end, Octahedron
will simply divide those who like The Mars Volta and those who don’t again. While there will be some side-switching, for the most part it isn’t the landmark record that will convince people who hate them to cross over to the light. It’s a pleasant listen, but perhaps not as diverse and frantic as a Mars Volta album should be, even one that is “acoustic”. However, the hooks are great and the melodies are beautiful, and while this will be the “…oh yeah, that
album…” to a lot of uptight Mars Volta fans in the future, it’s an excellent change of pace for the band, and proves that they can indeed write spacey, esoteric mid-tempo songs instead of…well…spacey, esoteric breakneck songs.