From the moment Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala left At the Drive-In to form The Mars Volta more than a decade ago, the duo and their co-conspirators have made a conscious effort to challenge even their staunchest fans and completely confound their easily befuddled critics. Finding their general direction somewhere in the floating nexus of Neo Prog, Metal, Math Rock, Fusion, Psychedelia, Electronica, Space Rock and Latin American music, The Mars Volta has applied its dizzyingly complex genre formula to straightforward album structures, song cycles and full blown concept albums with a constant eye towards disrupting music’s status quo.
The band’s sixth full-length, Noctourniquet, comes after a somewhat fractious period in the band’s history.
Rodriguez-Lopez reportedly finished the music three years ago and argued with Bixler-Zavala about the time he was taking on lyrics and vocals; Rodriguez-Lopez eventually concentrated on his solo work as an alternative.
Noctourniquet finds The Mars Volta pursuing a sound they’ve characterized as Future Punk, a simplified (for them, anyway) version of their standard musical calculus. “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” is nearly a gorgeous Pop ballad with Pearl Jam’s heart and Metallica’s verve, while the album’s first single, “The Malkin Jewel,” has the reeling barroom swagger of Nick Cave covering Kurt Weill. Like 2009’s Octahedron, Noctourniquet offers moments of relative reflection (“Lapochka,” “Trinkets Pale of Moon”), serious intent (“In Absentia”), head spinning polyrhythms (“Molochwalker”) and blistering intensity (“Zed and Two Naughts”).If Nocturniquet represents any kind of compromise for The Mars Volta, it has clearly been accomplished on the band’s own singular terms. Grade: A-