the mars volta // noctourniquet
by dan morrell
“If I trust in the wind she will pave me a different road / I will try and start over but I think I must choose someone else / I am pulled from the pages where the letters lack the pigment of trust,” writes vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala on “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound,” a track off of the Mars Volta’s newest release, Noctourniquet. These words are specifically relevant because of the changes that the veteran prog rock band has experienced during the construction of the album. Longtime keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens is gone, as well as guitarist John Frusciante and human drum machine Thomas Pridgen. The usual dictatorship of bandleader and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has apparently been revised, allowing for more input from the new members and Bixler-Zavala. The results have produced perhaps the most accessible album from the Grammy Award winning experimental prog band yet.
One noticeable change is that the song lengths are considerably shorter than the band is known for. The longest track clocks in at 7:26 and the average song duration throughout the album is about five minutes long. This is a big consolidation for a group that is known for extensive track lengths would sometimes go well beyond 10 minutes. By no means does this mean that you should expect to find a bunch of pop structured bores; this album is still very true to the vibe that Mars Volta is known and admired for. Noctourniquet is teeming with organized chaos, analog warmth, soaring vocal harmonies, bizarre time signatures, and soul-touching shredding.
The opening track, “The Whip Hand,” certainly delivers as advertised. Its chorus provides a strong punch to the gut with a conspicuous, thick, and fuzzy synth lead that would be fitting for a diabolical doomsday. With great complimenting parts such as a prechorus of haunting, reverb-rich vocals, bridge of brash and slightly detuned yells and a drum solo that sounds like Vietnam bomb field, this is an aggressive opener that demands attention. From here on out, the album moves along nicely with stunning peaks and even more compelling valleys. The following two tracks, “Aegis” and “Dyslexicon,” keep up the intensity with heart pounding drums and swirls of electronic clatter. Then we are drifted back down with the elegant and psychedelic, “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Noises,” one of the best tracks off of the album, “In Absentia,” which is best described as an epic journey, “Imago,” and “Trinkets Pale of Moon,” which are all memorizing in their own right.
Rodriguez-Lopez does some of his most refined work on Noctourniquet as a producer and guitarist. His guitar work is truly reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour in tone and approach. It may not be his most jaw dropping and manic effort but it is certainly one of his most soulful. There are beautifully constructed clean picking phrases and soaring, climactic solos which focus on the appreciation of every note. It is simply gripping and unforgettable.
Overall, Noctourniquet, is a tremendous album that adds to the already impressive discography of the band. The condensed song structures show a progression in production that really flexes Rodriguez-Lopez’s compositional cerebral. The poetic pentameters of Bixler-Zavala lyrics are a perfect addition to make the songs unforgettable. This is an album that will be loved by longtime fans and the perfect introduction to those who are just getting into the Mars Volta.
favorite tracks // “empty vessels make the loudest noises,” “in absentia,” “vedamalady”
Listen to Noctourniquet now, via Spotify.