The Mars Volta are a band whose whole career has been about creating elaborate, highly conceptual music that stuns as much as it intrigues. Rather than an album being examined by each track, they’re there to be given a look-over as a whole, such is the level of intricacy the band hold that it’s rare an album can be properly delved into on a first listen. So far, they’ve been successful at coming up with some of the most challenging yet rewarding albums in recent memory. This is their sixth LP, and the question isn’t whether they’ll go the same way as previous efforts but whether or not it’ll be just as rewarding.
Fellow Volta fans will be taken aback by the first few seconds of the album, as they are home to some of the most clean and melodic notes the band’s ever played. But, thankfully, ‘The Whip Hand’ rips into the familiar, ragged guitar sounds and bizarre time signature The Mars Volta have become known for. However, despite the directly ear-catching intro, the rest of the track proves to be one of the band’s weakest album openings. It lacks the entrancing qualities of ‘Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus’ and ‘Vicarious Atonement’, or the agitation of ‘Aberinkula’.
‘Noctourniquet’ quickly saves face with the next track, ‘Aegis’. But, as the record evolves through, the songs continue to interchange between middling prog-rock and the kind of inspired, riveting, mind fuck compositions that make up the band’s gamut.
Then, right around the middle of the album, ‘Noctourniquet’ finds its footing with ‘In Absentia’. The song starts with what sounds like 8-bit gothic church music, and then a repetitive keyboard note holds taut while Cedric Bixler-Zavala‘s voice struggles to be heard among the throbbing drums and a mock choir of demons. At about the halfway point, the song seems to entirely change, becoming a measured, secure groove while a funky synth ambles along.
It’s a pity to say that the band have drifted with this. ‘Noctourniquet’ is not the band’s best effort, but it’s still satisfying and interesting. It’s definitely a little testing and ultimately worthwhile if you can get past the clunky first half, though. And, as with every album from The Mars Volta, it will reveal more with each listen, each layer will peel away, so perhaps this review will mean nothing in a month or two.
Written by Rhys Milsom
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989. | Aspiring freelance pizza eater.