Review: The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
Published on April 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Messrs Omar and Cedric return for album number six as The Mars Volta, and their first since 2009’s relatively restrained Octahedron. With their At the Drive-In reunion tour on the horizon, their may legitimately have been concerns that a certain amount of eye would be taken off the ball for this project, but Noctourniquet is as thunderous, sprawling and frantically bubbling with ideas as The Mars Volta have ever been.
As far as opening one-two-three hits go, you might not find stronger all year: “The Whip Hand” leads a phenomenally syncopated rhythm into a big, farty Nine Inch Nails synth bass, the colossal sound of which sounds distinctly and disorientatingly out of synch with Cedric’s crazed yelps of “that’s when I disconnect from you”; “Aegis” is fantastically ominous sounding, drums a-rumblin’ with the same crazed intensity as on its predecessor, again entirely at odds again with the floaty, uber-paranoid, Pink Floyd-like song it underpins; and “Dyslexicon” is haunted by an otherworldly falsetto intrusion that nails this band’s masterful knack of making such opposing elements sound somehow symbiotic. It’s thrilling, memorable and, whatever lumpen old Noel Gallagher might opine, utterly fascinating.
At this juncture, it feels like The Mars Volta are on course for the kind of dark masterpiece that The Flaming Lips turned in a few years ago with Embryonic, but the trajectory from there on in isn’t quite as an unerring as hoped. “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” is soulful, brooding epic-pop rendered mad by wailing squalls of scratchy guitar, “The Malkin Jewel” goes from smoky ‘n’ seedy into frantic bleepiness, while “In Absentia” manages to sound like it’s actually on fire. The rest of the album though, while frequently ghostly, sky-scraping, confounding and darkly melodic, does not mix it up quite enough to sustain interest levels for the entirety of its 64-minute running time.
Sure there’s enough within the remainder to repay focused scrutiny – for instance, the berserkly theatrical, vaguely Gothic closer “Zed and Two Naughts” sees this collective of musicians at their dazzling best – but Noctourniquet leaves this admittedly attention-challenged reviewer feeling that there’s an exceptional 45-minute album in there somewhere. Nevertheless, The Mars Volta largely do justice here to the high standard they’ve set themselves, and that’s not to be sniffed at.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!