Published in the Hindu Metroplus/Sunday Magazine in May 2012.
The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
As you read this, At the Drive-In will have played their first reunion show since 2001 at the Coachella festival. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez gave up on that band back then to pursue more progressive, Floyd-esque music with the Mars Volta.
Their fifth album Noctourniquet was released despite being held back for three years, over Bixler-Zavala’s insistence to take his time tracking vocals. There was so much tension behind putting this album out, but you don’t hear any of it when you press play.
Instead, you hear this brilliant, jazzy, mostly-mellow set of songs. This is the first album that doesn’t include long-time collaborators Isaiah Owens (keyboard) and John Frusciante (guitars). The absence is conspicuous, but it tends to be largely forgiven and forgotten by the time the album plays out.
‘Aegis’ and ‘Dyslexicon’ immediately establish the direction the band is taking for the rest of the album. Bixler-Zavala’s vocals are calm and slightly deranged, while the guitars are heavily layered. Omar described the sound of the album as ‘future-punk’, but there’s certainly a math-rock quality to it, especially on songs such as ‘The Malakin Jewel’, which has notes going haywire.
Part of the jazz element can be attributed to drummer Deantoni Parks rejoining the band. There’s excellent work from behind the drum kit, but it’s not fast and frenetic as it has been on previous records. On ‘Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound’, Omar’s dreamy guitar tone meets some very pop rock formulas. It’s almost a ballad, a very powerful one, at that.
They have always been unpredictable, and that’s part of the appeal of progressive rock. ‘In Absentia’ is a seven-minute digitised mystic journey, with just about synth, drums and vocals transporting you through, while ‘Molochwalker’ and the album closer ‘Zed and Two Naughts’ are heavier and faster. The only difference is that only one of them is thought through.
Another first on this album was the inclusion of a song titled after the album. The track ‘Noctourniquet’ summarises everything the album leans towards – a futuristic, unpredictable sound; one that can only be mastered by the prodigious minds behind The Mars Volta.