The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet – review

The Mars Volta are a band that I can only half pretend in my attempt to understand over the past decade.  I saw them around 2002-2003 when they toured with Tool, at the Kent State auditorium. At the time Tool was dominating the angry/industrial scene that bands like Nine Incb Nails had created, and The Mars Volta were up-and-comers in the genre.  It was a genre that would soon be diluted and made even more more mainstream by bands like Coheed and Cambria (I’m actually a big fan of them, no slam intended). This was the new round of progressive rock brought on by bands like Rush, and Genesis in the 70’s.  Instead of catering towards the mainstream, the band began to crank out albums with 15 and 30 minute long songs with not a single in sight, and no apologies to be handed out about it.

Their popularity began to wain, but their writing progressed in its own fashion.   I have no doubt that The Mars Volta’s musicianship is on par with some of the best musicians in the world, but then again so is Phish and Steely Dan and I can’t stand either one of those bands.  Do I hate The Mars Volta though?  Well yes and no.  At times I’m amazed by some of the pulse pounding, nu-metal/prog-rock on their albums (listen to De-Loused in the Camatorium, and Bedlam in Goliath), and at other times their music makes me feel like I’m studying for a mid-term in college last minute, cramming as much of the lesson in as possible, (listen to Frances the Mute).

Noctourniquet marks the sixth album in the bands catalog, and while it may not be as accessible as their debut De-Loused in the Camatorium, it does build on 2009’s Octahedron with some of the more straight forward rock songs that the band has to offer.  Only one song breaks the seven minute mark, and the album is much more focused than a lot of their prior work.  The album is based off of the children’s nursery rhyme Solomon Grundy, along with the tale of the divine hero Hyacinth in greek mythology.  All of the songs operate within this context, and of course some of them are going to be a little heavy handed over the course of the album, Lapochka, In Absentia, and the opener The Whip Hand fall in this category.  Songs such as Aegis, Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound and the first single, The Malkin Jewel make up for all the attention you need to give the majority of the album.  My two favorite songs on the album are Vedamalady and the title track Noctourniquet, and show how capable the band is of making engaging, dynamic music.  It’s probably the most reserved I’ve ever heard the band,  and I wanted more of that across the course of the album, but we’re really only given a taste of it here and there.  The final song, Zed and Two Naughts is a perfect example of how awesome the album can be, but also how long the album still feels, and how trying The Mars Volta’s work can be at times.

I continue to have a symbiotic relationship with The Mars Volta and all of their work, but I still have this love/hate feeling towards it as well.   To me Noct0urniquet is a more forgiving and subtle album then most of their work, and is their best album since 2008’s Bedlam in Goliath. There are still a lot of dull and extremely long parts to the album, but you can still pick out some great musicianship, and great music amongst the filler.   I’ll say this The Mars Volta is never lacking in ambition, and their new release is definitely a step in the right direction as far as that focused ambition goes.  Unfortunately the album still feels like a chore to get through, and great prog/rock should never feel that way.

Grade: B-

One Response to “The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet – review”

  • Ash Williams:

    I think Frances the Mute is a great song. But you are right. At times I am amazed and other times I just want something to sing along with. Would it kill them to have a chorus?

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