The Mars Volta : Noctourniquet

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The Mars Volta : Noctourniquet


To a large portion of their fans, The Mars Volta have always been a victim of their own early successes, with their first two albums Deloused In The Comatorium and Frances The Mute so groundbreaking and brilliant that many fans, if not most, yearn for the band to return to that sound. This, however, would contradict the principle philosophies of the band: innovation and revolution, and it is in this determination on transformation that The Mars Volta both succeed and fail. No two records of theirs are the same and each piece can be appreciated for different qualities, however, the downside of The Mars Volta’s insistence on invention is they fall into a trap reaction rather than revolution, evidenced by the restrained and ‘acoustic’ album Octahedron being a reaction to the violently loud and fierce album before that, The Bedlam In Goliath, which itself was intentionally aggressive as a response to a ghost that apparently haunted their lives following an experience on a Ouija board.

This is where Noctourniquet succeeds as a work of art, and for the first time since Amputechture, the band aren’t forcing a particularly sound to suit their idea of what that album should be; rather, they’ve return to their formula of expression without an overarching musical narrative or particular sonic concept dictating their creative perspective, and in doing so have made of their most dynamic and accessible yet challenging records ever.

Noctourniquet is certainly a grower, and it needs to be, because the initial reaction to the album is underwhelm (due to how absolutely different the songs sound live) and confusion. The psychedelia and pure warp of single The Malkin Jewel is so unlike anything that it has taken multiple listens to appreciate its charm, which is specially underpinned by Bixler-Zavala’s trademark borderline nonsensical metaphor-laden lyrics which are so much fucking fun to sing along to: “From the blossom rags of my jackal croon to the stems of this cinquefoil/I give to you the shrapnel with which to sprinkle in her soil”.

Bixler-Zavala is perhaps the highlight of the entire record, and the year or so he took to write the vocal melodies and lyrics has paid off. His prolonged howling of “Desehra” on the Noctourniquet’s best track, In Absentia, along with the calm-croon in the brilliant Trinkets Pale The Moon and sheer passion in screaming “Do you think I’ll fold?” on eponymous track Noctourniquet are some of his best work in The Mars Volta canon.

This is drummer Deantoni Park’s first album with the band, and whilst his unbelievably commanding live talents aren’t completely appreciated on Noctourniquet, his bizarrely beautiful rhythms and technical power are evident on songs such as Aegis – a track he impressively dominates along with Dyslexicon.

For perhaps the most of any previous record, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez takes a backseat in Noctourniquet, representative of his maturity in his producer capacity, allowing Parks to shine on certain tracks yet quietening him on others, and often replacing what would traditionally be an in-your-face guitar moments with pleasant electronic effects. On tracks such as The Whip Hand, this can be annoying as the mindblowing pure punky/hard rock live version is compromised on the studio version by the overuse of the flatulence-sounding effects, but for the majority it adds an intriguing element to the overall sound.

Noctourniquet is the result of a band looking inwards for expression, not reacting to externality, and for the first time since their early material, I’m finding a new favourite track with almost each listen.


Best Track: In Absentia

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