The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet (Warner Bros, 2012)
Reviewed by Aaron Jacobsen
The Mars Volta are back! But, unfortunately, it could be for the last time, as these Texan rockers have made no secret of their struggles in working together, and there has also been the announcement that At The Drive-In would be reforming (the band whose break-up subsequently led to the forming of The Mars Volta in 2001).
But that’s the future, and Noctourniquet, the sixth album since 2001, is the present, and that’s where my interest lies, as this is a brilliant album which pits the band’s unique brand of prog-metal and psychedelic soundscapes, with some beautifully constructed and eerie ballads.
For those new to The Mars Volta, the band is primarily the project of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (guitar, director, production, live backing vocals), and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (lyrics and vocals), and has had frequent line-up changes over the years (including Flea and John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers). Their brand of metal continued what many thought to have been lost in the 90s, with erratic time-signatures, weird and wild guitar solos, and lyrics of horror and sci-fi. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Noctourniquet starts quite seductively on “The Whip Hand” before we are hit with a synth-laden fuzz, and a refrain that showcases Bixler-Zavala’s work with melody in the higher register, before ending with somewhat of a warning: “I am a landmine, so don’t just step on me”.
We then move on to my favourite track of the album, “Aegis”, which hints back to early work on their debut album, De-loused In The Comatorium. The music makes you feel like something is creeping up your spine, before the soaring chorus blasts over you like a wave of psychedelic goo.
The album then hits its straps with “Dyslexicon”, and “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound”, the latter mixing a pensive melancholy vocal with some intricate drum patterns and rhythms that we have come to expect from The Mars Volta.
“The Malkin Jewel” was the first track released from the album, and sounds like Nick Cave has hijacked a reggae dance party, and wouldn’t be out of place on a horror soundtrack, while “Lapochka” once again showcases new drummer Deantoni Parks’ intricate polyrhythms, and has Bixler-Zavala calling into what feels like an abyss: “How long must I wait?”
“In Absentia” breaks the album up with a lengthy blast of synth fuzz, which has you willing it to hurry along just so you can get to the beauty of “Imago”, and then the pulsating and powerful “Molochwalker” – an album highlight that has the blasts of energy and explosive sensory overkill that we have come to expect from the Texans.
In juxtaposition to the previous tracks, “Trinkets Pale of Moon” and “Vedamalady” are restrained and atmospheric, whilst the title track “Noctourniquet” almost has Bixlar-Zavala challenging the listener with repetitive lines of “Do you think I’ll fold?”
The album finishes with “Zed And Two Naughts”, and it is classic The Mars Volta. It travels along sonically with their typical peaks and troughs, but ends rather abruptly, and potentially will leave you a bit perplexed.
Ultimately, Noctourniquet is another chapter in The Mars Volta story, and if it really is the last, then it’s a fitting ending. However, for the sake of music as we know it, let’s hope it isn’t.
NZLawyer \\ issue 181 \\ 5 April 2012