Album Review: The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

Matthew Benton 5 May 2012

The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

Track to download: Vedamalady

3/5

Noctourniquet is The Mars Volta’s first studio effort in three years – their longest gap they have ever had between albums. It is therefore not surprising that this enigmatic record comes with a distinct sense of transition. Supremo Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, renowned for his creative energy, is stepping down as ‘dictator’ (fans of post-hardcore take note: Omar’s other outfit, At the Drive-In, are back!). In his own words, ‘something has to change’. Change certainly has arrived – this is no Octahedron, which is smaller in scope and outlook – but it sits slightly uncomfortably.

Weighing in at 64 minutes, and centred on a narrative surrounding Hyacinthus and Solomon Grundy (who? I hear you cry), Noctourniquet is suitably ambitious. The key to a successful concept album sort is finding the balance between a unifying theme and individuality. In this instance, there is too much of the former and too little of the latter.

There is a grand sense of architecture – synths dominate throughout – but as a result, it is guilty of too great a cohesion, too much of the same atmosphere. Disparate gems such as Vedamalady and Lapochka are nearly swallowed up by the overly-thick background sounds. The best moments in this album definitively fall into the ‘less-is-more’ basket.

The Mars Volta are by no means the most self indulgent prog group around, but at times Noctourniquet suffers under the weight of its own grandiosity. That said, it’s still not a bad record. If this only a transition for the band, then the future doesn’t look too bad.

Matthew Benton