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The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

3.54 | 296 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars It pains me to say it, but one of the most uncompromising bands on Earth apparently no longer wants to scare the bejesus out of unwary listeners. This is the first album from The Mars Volta that can arguably be called dispensable, and for a group so famously unpredictable that may well be the most unexpected criticism ever.

The album reportedly had a difficult genesis, with tracks begun but then shelved for the better part of three (!) years, before a commitment was made to wrap it all up. So it's hardly surprising that the original impetus was lost, and it shows. Songs like 'In Absentia', 'Lapochka' and the aptly titled 'Dyslexicon' give the impression that the left hand of the band was working at cross-purposes to the right.

Stylistically the album continues a trend toward shorter songs, almost but (thankfully) not quite conventional in structure and delivery. What's missing is the collaborative passion of earlier efforts, and (with a few worthwhile exceptions) the memorable hooks. The haunting ballad 'Trinkets Pale of Moon' is a standout; also the beautifully named 'Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound'. And 'The Malkin Jewel', the first single culled from the album, is an obvious highlight, although for whatever odd reason the song reminds me of the '80s goth rockers Bauhaus (circa 'She's In Parties'). Vocally, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Peter Murphy are, if not exactly twins, at least long-lost second cousins switched at birth.

An unstable personnel roster didn't help the project, either. New drummer Deantoni Parks is the most audible weak link, although I'm certainly not trying to cast him as a scapegoat. His clunky, drunken, off-kilter rhythms perfectly compliment a song like 'The Malkin Jewel', but elsewhere throughout the album his efforts were politely camouflaged by lots of studio alchemy, and probably for good reason.

No surprise there: The Mars Volta has always dressed its music in the latest (and often most garish) state-of-the-art wardrobe. But the more calculated psychedelia of 'Noctourniquet' lacks the sometimes volcanic creativity erupting from their other albums. The idiosyncrasies here seem oddly forced and artificial, imposed on the material after the fact to hide the wrinkles in master tapes already three years out of date.

Maybe the album's title is entirely fitting. Or maybe, after a handful of wildly energetic albums, the band simply burned itself out. Perfectly understandable, after the auto-da-fé of 'The Bedlam inGoliath' in just took a couple of albums for the ashes to finally settle. But don't count them out too soon; there might still be a phoenix in their future.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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