Noctourniquet by The Mars Volta
After an extended hiatus, At the Drive-In has finally reformed for a dream tour that will sweep the globe. Fans of guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala are salivating with anticipation to finally see one of their favorite groups perform in front of their very eyes! AND… oh wait, The Mars Volta have just released their new album, Noctourniquet. Strange, one would think that Omar and Cedric would be so focused on ATDI that they wouldn’t have the time to release an album with their collaborative songwriting effort TMV. How on earth could they do this?
In an interview with BBC Radio 1 this past February, Rodriguez-Lopez revealed that all the music for Noctourniquet was recorded back in 2009. He claimed the release was delayed so long because Bixler-Zavala couldn’t keep up with his pace. Apparently, Bixler-Zavala needed to write the lyrics on his own time, which, unfortunately for the rest of the band, took an extra two and a half years. As a result, The Mars Volta’s sound has changed since this record was completed, but its release will not show those changes. Even so, the album separates itself from the band’s past work in several ways. Before Noctourniquet, finding a song by The Mars Volta shorter than five minutes required a highly trained search and rescue team. Also, one would be hard-pressed to say any melody created by this band was hypnotic before Noctourniquet, but the new album is littered with trance-like melodies on songs such as “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound,” “Imago” and “Trinkets Pale of Moon.” The new sound may not be what the group would have recorded today, but it definitely is worth a listen.
The album opens with the hard-hitting, synthesizer-heavy “The Whip Hand.” This track has an overall creepy feeling to it that somehow retains its classic Volta sound. The eardrum massaging synth during the chorus and the bridge stand out on this song. It feels odd to say that anything in this song pertains to a massage, but when this piece is played through decent speakers the sound truly cradles the listener. However, the pleasantness doesn’t feel like it has truly good intentions. An underlying maniacal feeling accompanies the sound. The song is like a puff from a cigarette—it calms the listener while slowly killing him. The bridge of “The Whip Hand” sounded very annoying at first; however, after a while I caught myself singing it in the shower. The lyrical content here is nothing spectacular, but it is catchy in a rebellious teenager sort of way.
Tracks like “Vedamalady,” “Aegis” and “Trinkets Pale of Moon” reveal a softer, estranged sound. The band’s more mature sound shows they are capable of evolving and captivating newer fans. There are still songs on the album with that classic Volta edge, like “Molochwalker,” “Dyslexicon” and the epic closer “Zed and Two Naughts.” These tracks have everything one would expect to hear from The Mars Volta and more; reversed guitars, crazy lyrics and mind bending drum patterns abound.
The Mars Volta are quite an odd band—any band that labels itself as experimental and creates 20-minute long songs of synthetic noises will earn this title. So it is fitting that they chose “The Malkin Jewel” for its first single. Despite the song’s strangeness, the chorus and bridge are both extremely catchy. It’s not the strongest track on the album, but it fully embodies the album’s sound. “The Malkin Jewel” is slightly creepy, but it still has many catchy moments.
“In Absentia” is Noctourniquet’s longest track, and it is certainly the most ambitious. Seven minutes is not very long when compared to the band’s previous albums, but one notable feature of Noctourniquet is the brevity of the songs. The first verse of “In Absentia” feels forced , but before Bixler-Zavala can begin to say “They’ve stolen all my love,” the song takes on a trance-inducing carnival theme. The sound is absolutely beautiful in the way that a full moon lights up a graveyard. The experience is spine tingling, but it leaves you with some great photo opportunities.
Noctourniquet is one of The Mars Volta’s most accessible yet unique sounding albums. Is it their best? Probably not, but it deserves an honorable mention from their vast catalogue of music. Despite this record not being their best, the accessibility and change in sound from their earlier chaotic epics to concise directional tracks propels this album past other music in the progressive rock genre. If you are trying to get in to The Mars Volta but aren’t a fan of their early albums, Noctourniquet would be the best place to start. The band retains the future punk sound they were going for, but they never take it too far over the edge of sanity.