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The Mars Volta - Octahedron CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

3.67 | 449 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Octahedron. (I need to review an album every once in a while...).

Following The Bedlam In Goliath, I had a bit of skepticism about this one. I'm no longer able to absorb a non-stop sonic barrage, so the talk of an 'acoustic' album was of great interest to me.

The opener, Since We've Been Wrong, is one of the finest latter-day King Crimson-derived songs I've ever heard. In fact they probably at this point are more capable of playing early KC than KC themselves. If you like Lizard era KC, this song is for you, only lacking the signature KC tritones. Droning synths fade to backing acoustic and shimmering electric guitars that ride over the vocals, with nary a drum nor bass in earshot. The dynamics are blessed relief from Bedlam. But then in true KC fashion, the song explodes into mellotron- driven beauty and pounding bottom end of bass/drums. Never overbearing sonically, this is simply a great song.

I'm not so enamored of Teflon; it's a bit too close to Bedlam. No, I don't want an album of lullabies, but compared with the opening cut this one lacks a bit dynamically. No complaints about the overall melodies here however, some of which are reminiscent of The Beatles 'round 'bout The White Album. Still, this one doesn't do a lot for me.

Organ segues to Halo of Nembutals. Good lord, where do they come up with these melodies that just suck me in? There's still those shimmering, wavering guitars in the background underpinning the lyric, and as the song progresses a bit more mellotron seeps in, laying low in the mix.

With Twilight As My Guide is a good mess of slide guitars riding over the acoustics, great melodies, and the band is not afraid to throw in a bit of noisy synth here and there, especially toward the end, just like back in the good old days of their early albums, with Pink Floyd being the obvious reference point.

Cotopaxi is a bit more Teflon. Same approach. I heard all this stuff on the last album.

Church organ segue.

Desperate Graves. Leslie-guitar and mellotron over a driving beat. TMV do know and pay appropriate homage to their sources. The song is for me is another weak one. Again it's not bad, there is just not a lot of melodic or rhythmic interest here, especially given what has come before.

Copernicus. Good lord, where do they come up with these melodies? What I said about Halo of Nembutals goes double here. It's all so simple: a few little guitar arpeggios, played slowly, given time to let the notes ring a bit, some bass and cymbal and synth in the mix, again shimmering, ice reflecting the sun on a frigid day. A beautiful vocal. Then layer after layer of sound added, but never obtrusively. Really, sometimes it sounds almost as if they could crank out song after song like this.

Synth segue.

Luciforms. This one follows to the form of most of the album. Synths droning over white noise, until the leslie guitars and vocals fade in, then explodes to buzzing guitars and pounding drums. To these ears, another fairly weak track.

The Mars Volta seem to be trapped in an interesting corner here, which is fully reflected in the songs on this album: do we go after the listeners who liked the first two albums, or do we go after those who liked the two most recent? Actually, that's probably not a fair assessment. I doubt they are going after listeners. The question would be: which muse do we follow? In the end, they apparently decided to split the difference.

When this band is on, when they are not trying to impress and overwhelm with sheer volume and avalanches of sound, they are still capable of crafting incredibly beautiful music. When they are off, they don't show me a thing.

jammun | 4/5 |


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