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The Mars Volta - Octahedron CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

3.64 | 423 ratings

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3 stars The Mars Volta's unplugged album is hardly that, but next to "The Bedlam in Goliath" it can certainly seem like a welcome return to Terra Firma.

Their notorious 2008 album was so dense it became practically opaque: a runaway 16- wheel juggernaut of rocket-fueled psychedelia (I continue to admire the album for its uncompromising intensity, but find it almost unlistenable for exactly the same reason). In startling contrast, the music of "Octahedron" is polished to a rare (for this band) transparency, through which the boundless creativity of a unique ensemble can once again be distinguished.

It's a fitting title for such a multi-faceted album. Having purged the fury of "Goliath" from their collective system, the band was able to dial back their usual manic energy toward a (most of the time) more manageable level. But the result is another polarizing effort from an always unpredictable group, blindsiding many fans by daring to sound halfway accessible, in songs often having a (gasp!) traditional verse-chorus-verse structure.

The change of pace is best heard in the trio of ballads here. "Copernicus" features a few moments of actual acoustic piano, in its own way more shocking than anything on the "Goliath" album. The haunting "With Twilight as My Guide" dips, in its final moments, into the same "Saucerful of Secrets" once served by PINK FLOYD. And the album opener "Since We've Been Wrong" has probably the most beautiful melody in The Mars Volta catalogue so far.

Elsewhere the album is no less powerful or loud than earlier efforts. But even during the more typically aggressive rockers ("Cotopaxi" is a classic Mars Volta adrenalin kick) the band is careful to maintain firm control over the material, rather than allowing (again, as they did on "Goliath") the music to control them.

Albums by The Mars Volta usually require a lot of time and persistent replays to be digested properly. The band's fifth studio effort is really no different, despite the more user-friendly style (which is one reason why I allowed more than a year to pass before even trying to form an opinion of it). I can't entirely dismiss the thought that it's the perfect Mars Volta album for people who don't really like The Mars Volta; one misses the arcane extremities of concept and composition that animated earlier efforts like "Frances the Mute" and "Deloused in the Comatorium". But there hasn't been a Mars Volta album yet made that didn't leave me anxiously wondering where the band would turn next, and the velvet- lined knuckleduster punch of "Octahedron" is no exception.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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