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The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet (Review)

The Mars Volta, Noctourniquet

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE Mars Volta have, quite possibly, delivered their most commercially accessible album with Noctourniquet, their sixth offering. But that doesn’t mean to say they’ve abandoned their prog-rock principals.

Rather, they’ve broadened their sound to offer several breakaway points of wider appeal, while still managing to impress and infuriate in equal measure.

While Noctourniquet was, in typical Mars Volta fashion, written by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala and produced by Rodriguez-Lopez, the 13-track album explores musical territories previously uncharted in the duo’s 20 or so years of creating music together, while introducing new drummer Deantoni Parks into the mix.

The result veers between the opening bombast of The Whip Hand to the menacing crawl of The Malkin Jewel and is punctuated throughout by hypnotic melodies and borderline electro-ambient washes.

Yet, for all of its sonic adventure, it’s during the quieter moments that the album excels… finding more coherence and even melody in restraint, as well as a certain melancholy.

Hence, while tracks like The Whip Hand and Dyslexicon offer plenty of variation and constantly evolving tempos, it’s the more serene likes of Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound that leave the biggest impression.

Indeed, that latter track has a smoothness and tranquillity about it that reminded me of Pink Floyd… the hypnotic melodies creating a soothing backdrop from which the vocals work a certain kind of charm. It’s a nice break from some of the more grandiose elements.

These include opener The Whip Hand, which sets things in motion in typically sprawling fashion with guitars that are, by turns, warped and retro, stop-start and ragged, and lyrics that trippily speak of “swatted flies in the Vaseline”, not to mention woozy synths and vocals that veer wildly from normal to hysterical.

Or The Malkin Jewel, which hits you with a sometimes disorientating mix of jagged, off-kilter guitar licks, wailed (and pained) vocals and woozy synths that are, by turns, disturbing and striking.

I can take or leave those, whereas tracks like In Absentia have a lot more going for them and really showcase The Mars Volta at their most crossover… blending that progressive tendency with a mainstream leaning to sometimes exciting effect. In Absentia opens as though it’s been remixed by UNKLE, before coming over all trippy midway through, and then calming down into a genuinely cracking outro.

Imago then slows the tempo once more and elevates the album’s appeal still higher. It’s still distinctly Mars Volta-like but there’s a beauty and a coherence to it that’s sometimes missing from their more aggressively progressive stuff. It’s another favourite.

Elsewhere, for fans of their wilder material, Molochwalker is a frenzy of riffs and manic energy, Trinket Pale of Moon (by contrast) a trippy comedown offering that’s stripped back and punctuated by people talking in the background and Zed And Two Naughts, which virtually bubbles to life to form a typically epic finale.

Just prior to that, however, the album delivers two more highlights in Vedamalady, which emerges from a cacophony of ambient synths into a mid-tempo offering of sometimes disarming beauty, and title track Noctourniquet, which also manages to find beauty in some of its more disjointed elements, while playing with the tempo and mixing anguish with serenity.

Overall, then, The Mars Volta continue to exhibit that capacity to delight and frustrate in equal measure. But while Noctourniquet sometimes feel like a prog-rock mess, it’s also capable of blowing you away in a positive way. It could quite possible be their best effort yet (in this reviewer’s opinion).

Download picks: Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound, In Absentia, Imago, Vedamalady, Noctourniquet

Track listing:

  1. The Whip Hand
  2. Aegis
  3. Dyslexicon
  4. Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound
  5. The Malkin Jewel
  6. Lapochka
  7. In Absentia
  8. Imago
  9. Molochwalker
  10. Trinket Pale of Moon
  11. Vedamalady
  12. Noctourniquet
  13. Zed And Two Naughts