Reviewing an album by The Mars Volta is never an easy task, a first impression is not usually your final one and sometimes far from it as I have experienced with previous albums by TMV.
This was the case with the 2006 album Amputecture. After the love I had for their previous two outings I couldn’t help but feel let down by Amputecture, this changed when I revisiting it when The Bedlam in Goliath was released and I could fully appreciated what they were trying to achieve and that it was a vital stepping stone from the epic freak out jams of Francis the Mute to the more ‘accessible’ shorter individual tracks of Goliath.
Noctourniquet has been in the making for three years which is some time for them to be absent considering they produced five studio albums in a 6 year period. This gap was due to Cedric pulling Omar aside and telling him he could not keep up with his pace!
This did not stop Omar from recording as from June 2009 and March 2011 he released a measly 10 albums, the highlight being the seminal TMV album Cryptomnesia which has Cedric singing on 8 of the 11 tracks and the Omar Rodriguez Lopez & John Frusciante collaboration album.
There’s the history and now on to the important part is the new album any good?
Well as you may expect from TMV it was never going to be Octahedron Part 2, where Omar finishes the last album is by no means where he picks up the next one.
Whereas previous TMV outings have started at a million miles an hour and never relent Noctourniquet is a much slower and concise ordeal and far less frantic.
Instead of epic 15 minute whirling tracks that takes you through the looking glass and down the rabbits hole Omar has spent more time on crafting beautifully layered individual tracks that range between 4 to 7 minutes long. In Absentia is a prime example of a beautifully crafted soundscape which starts with dingy near industrial sounds and after 4 minutes morphs in to a majestic piece , that ebbs and flows beautifully through synths and subtle electronic noises and leaving you never quite sure what instruments you were actually listening to.
Cedric’s vocals are more subdued on this album, gone are the trademark screeches and instead he sings his cryptic lyrics in a beautiful near hypnotic manner, Aegis and Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound being examples of this. He does get his screech back on in the quality Molochwalker which is a driving fast track with manic drum beats and wiggly guitars that would not sound out of place on any TMV album
After a few listens you soon forget that you haven’t heard a single guitar solo or that TMV have adopted a futuristic prog punk sound (and at times almost relaxing!) and you just appreciate the album for what it is and that’s a painstakingly and lovingly crafted well adept piece of beautiful music.
Omar does not just produced music he produces works of art that you truly believe he has put his heart and soul in too and as a listener you can become totally absorbed in it, much in the same way Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has been for the last 20 years. Both true musicians who are rivalled by very few in this day and age.
One thing I could not over look though is the omission of long term keyboard player Ikey Owens and for me that is a big shame as I always felt his unique sound and energetic keyboard skills gave TMV and added edge. Of all the musicians lost in the ‘revolving door’ that is The Mars Volta Group I feel this is the biggest. This decision is still for unknown reasons
Also worth noting is that ex RHCP guitarist John Fruciante who has been a long term studio guitarist for the band is also not present.
Noctourniquet is in my opinion not TMV’s best outing but when a band sets the bar so high on ever release how can you always beat this? This said it is still a solid album and well worth a listen and comes whole heartedly recommended from me.
Love them or hate them, The Mars Volta need saluting for their attitude and honesty towards their music, they make music purely for themselves, totally self absorbed and for their love of music and not for me or you. In a generation of generic manufactured pop pap and the attitude of finding a winning formula and sticking with it, this level of honesty is very hard to find in today’s very fickle music industry!
Score – 4/5
Standing Out: Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound, In Absentia, Molochwalker
The Track Listing:
- The Whip Hand
- Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound
- The Malkin Jewel
- In Absentia
- Trinkets Pale of Moon
- Zed and Two Naughts