Review of The Mars Volta’s ‘Noctourniquet’

noctourniquet headerYears ago, I was flipping between the two MTV shows that were on. I don’t remember what was on the first one, but MTV2 had The Mars Volta’s music video for “The Widow” (off of their 2005 album Frances the Mute) playing. To this day, it is the only music video that legitimately scared me. Maybe it was the people bleeding black out of their eyes, or just the mindtrip parts towards the end of it, regardless of what it was, it made quite the impression on me. Since then, I’ve tried listening to all of their next albums, finding new songs that moved me in ways that I didn’t think a progressive rock band could.

Mind you, this is way before I knew that guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala came from At The Drive-In. And although I went back later to listen to their albums and enjoyed myself, I’d still go back and listen to the over-exemplary complexities of The Mars Volta. Now that At the Drive-In will be reuniting this year, it would be only fitting to release some new material to celebrate. Of course, we do not get a new Drive-In record, but Volta’s Noctourniquet, a complex head-trip that doesn’t stop until the last song.

Noctourniquet, the band’s first album since 2009’s Octahedron , Rodríguez-López and Co. put out another ambitious, chaotic, head-melting album that fits incredibly well with their previous works. Ironically, this is also their most cohesive album to date, not putting out random guitar and drum solos, but an enjoyable art-metal/progressive rock album. New listeners might not get it right away, but if you give it some time, you’ll find yourself having a rather enjoyable time. The 13 songs on Noctourniquet all flow together like a continuing narrative piece of art. The first track, “The Whip Hand” is an electronic, trance-inducing opener filled with hypnotic effects that manages to suck you into the album. “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” is a relaxing ballad that crescendos beautifully throughout. The following track, “The Malkin Jewel,” is a rambunctiously mesmerizing stomp, filled with moments that would make listeners question everything. “Trinkets Pale of Moon” is a quiet ballad that sets up the last three tracks perfectly (“Vedamalady” especially).

There are some beautiful moments sung by Cedric Bixler-Zavala that just sent shivers down my spine. His ability to hit notes an octave above what normal people do astounds me every time it comes up. He doesn’t hit this range as much as he did on previous releases (especially not as much as The Bedlam in Goliath), but when he does, it feels like an overwhelming sense of amazement. But when he mellows out for a couple of tracks, and I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this, but Zavala sounds like he can fill in for a song or two on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. That’s some of the genius of Zavala though; he can be intense and in-your-face, then pull it back and lull you with sweeping melodies.

Noctourniquet is just one of those albums that makes you feel all the things. It’ll make your head rush into a swirling oblivion, and can relax you with tracks that are rather tame for a band like Mars Volta to be putting out. This is also one of those albums that fans will absolutely love. New listeners might be turned off by Zavala’s vocals or the utter complexities that go into each song. However, if you sit back and give Noctourniquet a couple of listens, then you will find an album that is untouched by anyone else in the genre – whatever the genre you would label a band like Mars Volta.

Final Grade: A

Go Download: The album (there’s not one song here that is a single; works so much better as a full album)

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