The Mars Volta  ‘Noctourniquet’ (Warner Brthers)


Available 26th March


Mars Volta ‘Noctourniquet’ – album review

The Mars Volta have a legacy that continues to grow and grow. The project spawned from the El Paso post-hardcore punk band, At The Drive-In, who have reformed this year to play a series of Summer festivals. It’s a busy year for Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López, with thoughts still well and truly on their creative future whilst dipping into the past for a short while to revive the nostalgia of their youth, the band that defined their legacy, and future as The Mars Volta.

The Grammy award-winning Mars Volta have always been a step upwards and outwards compared to the raw power and simplicity of At The Drive-In. Their music can’t always be described as accessible, or even coherent. They’re renowned forpushing the boundaries as far as prog-rock and experimentalism is concerned.Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala are truly the creative forces within the band, with other members coming and going following various fall-outs and quarrels with the two leaders. It seems that with ”ËœNoctourniquet, as they get to a certain stage of their career, they have almost mellowed to a degree. Now, compared to the complexity and elaborateness of their previous efforts, ”ËœThe Bedlam In Goliath for example, they’reexperimenting more with the idea of accessibility as was evident with their effort on 2009’s success, ”ËœOctahedron. ”ËœOctahedron was an album that delved in the idea of more acoustic influences, although still showing multi-instrumentalism in parts. The lead singer even admitted himself “All along we’ve threatened people that we’d make a pop record, and now we have.” This changed the format of the band altogether. They were no longer known as the band that made music only music students could appreciate. They actually made an album that anybody could enjoy, changing the scaffolding for future audiences that may not only be interested their future work, but even their previous records.

In 2012, however, they still have that power; Cedric’s screaming, Rush-esque vocals are the driving force of the album, Omar’s skill with a guitar that is still evident to be out of this world. Omar is one guitarist, along with his regular collaborator, John Frusciante, who I consider to be up there with the greats, Hendrix, Page, Beck, White, Frusciante, and Rodríguez-López. His consistent drive to do things that no others have done is something that sells the band, he distorts and wails alongside Cedric’s devilish shrieks and screams. They really are the perfect creative duo. I sometimes think that if Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were making music together in the current climate, they would probably be nearer to The Mars Volta than any other musician today.

A highlight of this album is the clear progression into more pop formula structures. Leading track (made available prior to album’s release), ”ËœThe Malkin Jewel is like a waltz with a bumbling verse I could imagine supporting a Victorian disease-ridden, London street. Distortion and electronics support Bixler-Zavala’s powerful anthemic vocals. The Mars Volta’s sixth album is a triumph as far as pop progression isconcerned. But then again, did anybody expect them to ever do anything twice?

Another thing that’s quite understated is Cedric’s strive to limit the high notes. On previous albums he could be heard to reach the maximum notes on tracks such as”ËœCassandra Gemini, almost showing off his ability. On this album it’s clear he’s proved what he needs to and he’s at the stage where he can use his vocal range to his advantage and dictate when and where the high notes need to be applied, and where they don’t. The title track, on the other hand shows him straining his vocals on the chorus, sounding like he is shredding his throat and tearing his vocal chords to give the right effect, a true effort from a powerful vocal experimentalist.

Lyrically, Cedric has always explored both fiction and reality and combined the two, creating truly sensational poetic imagery. ”ËœTrinkets of Pale Moon is a more acoustic effort, with Cedric singing in his high tenor vocal range “And every time you hear thescream of lullabies collapsing walk towards the echo and let it hold you trembling”. Cedric has always cleverly incorporated abstract imagery and transfused it with the reality and it is refreshing to see his poetic style is still prevalent throughout the latest LP.

Despite their announcement of the ATD-I reunion later this year, I find it quite a surprise that their sound is such a long way from the band of their youth. They claimed there would be no new material from At The Drive-In. Well, they’re going to have to adjust pretty well, all luck and credit to them for that. ”ËœNoctourniquet is an album of subtle complexity, only using certain formulas when needed, but exploringmultiple influences and distortion nonetheless. They demonstrate they still have the skills that won them their Grammy in the first place. The skills of orchestrating and composing multiple instruments and making them fit into their melody where best suited. Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López are two of the most productive and creative musicians in the music industry. ”ËœNoctourniquet is amarvellous effort, pushing those boundaries and expectations yet again.

The creative future for The Mars Volta has never been written, and it cannot be predicted, especially not for their latest success, ”ËœNoctourniquet.

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Manchester-based writer and promoter. Currently putting on gigs for Glass Onion. Contact me at Follow me at @JDNicol.


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