The Mars Volta – 'Noctourniquet' (UK Release: 26 March '12) // Words: Simon Opie
The Mars Volta and their musical leader Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have been to the well an awful lot in the last nine years, between them notching up well over a dozen albums. Amazingly, without any dimming of enthusiasm. Nonetheless, 'Noctourniquet' is the first album in quite a while to approach the brilliance of their early work.
The Mars Volta’s debut album – 2003’s 'Deloused In The Comatorium' was jaw-droppingly awesome. As an At The Drive-In fan, disappointed by their demise, I remember the shock and awe of the newness and boldness of a collection of songs utterly without parallel. When they followed up with the extended concept album 'Frances The Mute', which I thought was even better, they had produced two of the very best albums of the noughties, if not all time (Just listen to 'Son Et Lumiere', 'Drunkship Of Lanterns','The Widow' or 'Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream' and try to disagree).
That’s a very hard act to follow and true enough the next albums were not really at that same level of inspiration. 'Noctourniquet' takes stock of where their muse has led them and takes a while to assimilate. There is an exaggerated electro-prog tinge to the album, with a lot of musical ideas packed into small spaces. Perhaps too small on some songs and I much prefer the more anarchic numbers – as when the kick of 'The Malkin Jewel' jolts the band out of their comfort zone. 'Molochwalker', title track 'Noctourniquet' and the concluding 'Zed And Two Naughts' are also right up there with their best moments.
In total it’s a fine effort and of course, although when they started they were apparently one of a kind, there are now many others working in this same space, bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Porcupine Tree and, to a certain degree, Mastodon. So maybe the element of surprise is missing. Even so, I doubt anyone can claim to write lyrics quite as obscure and plain barmy as Cedric Bixler-Zavala – but that said, he can certainly sing and it’s terrific to hear him deliver with real enthusiasm and drive on this album.
So an excellent, if not truly great, record from a singularly talented band who have really nothing to prove. I suspect it will get better with time and by the year’s end it will be on my essential list.
'Noctourniquet' is available to purchase from Amazon.co.uk etc. Find more info at themarsvolta.com.