Mars Volta releases experimental record

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Progressive rock group The Mars Volta return with their first release since 2009’s Octahedron, Noctourniquet (Photo courtesy of Eliot Lee Hazel).

There is no group that has taken up the progressive rock torch quite like The Mars Volta. In their 11-year career, the band has gone from prog-rock toddlers to masters of the genre, channeling the spirit of King Crimson, Santana, Jimi Hendrix and Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, in their music. The Mars Volta continues their musical journey into the unknown with their latest release, Noctourniquet.

When The Mars Volta first made their debut out of the ashes of defunct (now recently reunited) post-hardcore group At the Drive-In, questions arose as to what direction the band would take. Unlike At the Drive-In, who were infamous for their emo-laced guitar melodies and hard-edged riffs, The Mars Volta preferred a much different direction: Say goodbye to four minute punk anthems, and hello to 12-minute Led Zeppelin-esque voyages.

Since 2009’s Octahedron, though, the band has compressed their sound to be more straightforward, while retaining their experimental qualities. The same can be said for its follow-up, Noctourniquet; the longest song, “In Absentia,” is only about seven minutes long — a departure from the ten-plus minute tracks the group has become known for.

Album opener “The Whip Hand” begins with an aggressive, punk sound. Buzzy synthesizers explode with unrelenting intensity, battling with dynamic drums for superiority. “I am a land mine, I am a land mine/so don’t you step on me, so don’t you step on me,” yells lead vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala; the anarchic chant resonates with the edgy atmosphere of the album.

Prior to Noctourniquet’s release, Bixler-Zavala took to his YouTube channel to describe the band’s new sound. “No 30-minute songs, no drums that sound like mosquitoes in your ear. Just future punk,” Bixler-Zavala said.

This is absolutely true. Stripped down and completely renovated, the band’s latest album moves with an intensity that is reminiscent of the punk groups that originally inspired The Mars Volta’s Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez to create music.

The band’s new direction is accessible; they trimmed all of the excess experimental fat, retaining certain sounds and ideas that even the most die-hard Volta fans can enjoy. From the slow, guitar-driven love song “Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound” to the upbeat, riff-heavy “Molochwalker,” the “future punk” sound is all there. It’s not necessarily pissed-off, but listeners can sense the ferociousness that backs each song.

There are certain songs that are overshadowed by the album’s standout tracks, though. Songs such as “The Malkin Jewel,” “Imago” and “Vedamalady,” take some time to pick up, and even then, the buildup may not be as worthy of your attention as originally thought.

Overall, Noctourniquet is an impressive release. The Mars Volta have never been hesitant to experiment with new sounds and this album is proof of that.

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Mars Volta experiments with new album