The Mars Volta – [Album]

Saturday, 11 July 2009

How many bands can say that they started outside of the box and ignored the conventions of established rock orthodoxy but coerced a legion of fans to follow them without attempting to reach for the brass ring of success even once? The Mars Volta can. Since appearing on the popular radar six years ago, Mars Volta has done nothing but continue its course and won a significant fan base the old fashioned way: on the strength of their music, word of mouth and a few well-placed celebrity endorsements (most notably from Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante – who also helps the band out by contributing some guitar occasionally). Because of those methods by which the band got noticed, they've never been asked to do anything but keep at it – and that's exactly what they've done. The Mars Volta doesn't have an artistically flexible bone in its body, but doesn't need to; if you find them, you hang around because what they're doing interests you – so that's what you're going to get because they're happy to provide it.

Such is the case with Octahedron. Mars Volta's newest effort continues to walk the line that the band started in 2003 with De-Loused in the Comatorium; it's business as usual – except that it isn't. While there's no mistaking songs like “Halo Of Nembutals,” “Copernicus” and “Luciforms" as being the work of Mars Volta (aka the band that re-popularized mathematically measured psychodrama for the first time since 1987), there is more at work here than the usual technical designs. From the opening operatic swoop of “Since We've Been Wrong,” it's abundantly apparent that there's a methodical means to Mars Volta's mathematical machinations as the band plays out a complete miniature vignette in the song's seven-and-a-half-minute run-time and braces audiences for what promises to be a very ambitious production. Then they do it again (produce another fully-formed little vignette, that is) in “Teflon”—and again, and again, and again. In fact, the album is a sprawling series of eight small-scale expositions.

I know what even hardened fans are thinking: Mars Volta doesn't have the personal or collective charisma to pull something like this off—but they do.

The way it's done, in this case, is via Mars Volta's seamless incorporation of a few new sounds that knit the entire record (as well as the movements within each song) together. On tracks like “Teflon,” “Halo Of Nembutals” and "Cotopaxi,” singer Cedric Zavata adopts a vocal presence that's equal parts Geddy Lee and Ronnie James Dio which blows the heads off of listeners even when he's keeping his vocal chords on a leash (on “Copernicus”) but does that after their collective jaw drops – as it will with “Cotopaxi.” In the more up-tempo number (they're really at a premium here), the band also borrows some sonic motifs from Rush as his great big, earth-shattering choruses that could easily fill an arena with sound (“Luciforms” is a great example) are broken by simplistic, driving beats that bludgeon Zavata's souring voice into a locked figure in the minds of anyone within earshot and have them instinctively screaming and reeling with ecstasy in a live setting. Whether math and metal are your things or not, you have to respect something that powerful; whether math and metal are your things or not.

So what does still another glowing endorsement mean for Mars Volta? Probably not very much. The single most awe-inspiring thing about this band is the inevitability that seems to dominate every micro-tone of every song in the band's catalog. While, granted, not everyone will hear the band's new music, those that do will be absolutely flabbergasted by the changes within the band's perception. You'll be shocked too – if you dare to put Octahedron on.


The Mars Volta online

The Mars Volta myspace


Octahedron is out now and available here on Amazon.


The Mars Volta – [Album]

Thursday, 07 February 2008

I remember a friend playing De-Loused in the Comatorium on his car stereo, wowing at Bixler-Zavala’s high-in-the-sky vocal range. I didn’t take the notion all too seriously because this friend was more into the B-52s and show tunes. The Mars Volta fled into a whirlpool of forgotten musical recommendations. I don’t exactly recall what brought me back to them. It could have easily been the press that oh-so-emphasized their fashion-forward-looking-backward 70s-super tight jeans.

When I eventually gave them a second chance, I instantly felt like I had seen the light. It instantly felt spiritual. I truly thought I had found musical messiahs who would lead me out of the pop cesspool of mediocrity and manufactured emotions. After that, I was often found de-stressing to scream-sessions of their songs in my paper-walled dorm room although I had no clue what their songs were about. How on earth could I connect to this music if I had no idea what it was about? It was a mystery. It was clear that there was something incredibly liberating about how old and otherworldly their sound seemed. Their convoluted force embedded with mythological imagery of a homemade language was often interpreted as drug-induced fairy tales—if nothing else, I enjoyed the rebellion I felt in glorifying the lifestyle of excess I imagined these rock stars were experiencing simply because I thought they had access to a universe of hallucinogenic remedies that I didn’t have the balls to discover myself.

Although, I secretly wished that the band would mysteriously disappear into Madagascarian caves or croak in a rock-defined triumph, like an epic plane crash—or just stop making recordsbecause the connection I once found with the first album, slipped away without a trace. Sparking a flame with Frances, with Amputecture, was like deep-sea diving for pearls. I felt washed out. I was already over it before information about the production of fourth full-length Bedlam in Goliath leaked.

Without a doubt, The Mars Volta are this generation’s concept-album cake-takers. Their output never ceases to tag an off-the-wall tale of teleological extremes. Bedlam is the musical journey inspired by events (so-called) brought on by a cursed Ouija-like gift purchased on the road in Jerusalem. Tagged “The Soothsayer,” the board seemingly stirred a laundry-line of troubles including everything from financial crisis to home flooding to nervous breakdowns. Right off the bat, it’s a balls-to-the-wall, high-strung heavy-weight creature to wrap your head around.

From the immediate attack of first track “Aberinkula,” they sound much more musically concrete, much more melodic, and much more persistent. Although they claim that there is no “Widow” on this album, and despite the floods of jazz woodwind influxes, The Mars Volta sound more accessible than ever. Instead of showcasing Rodriguez-Lopez’s ability to string isolated, deviant guitar solos, they sound like a band of structure. The robotic vocal manipulation that introduces “Ilyena” could, in expected Mars Volta fashion, go on for 10 minutes, but it doesn’t. Lyrical patterns are the clearest they have ever been. With a tighter, more consistent pace, they pack a heat that’s less self-indulgent and full of an accessibility that could be their ticket to complete world domination.

True-blue fans may be turned off by the regularity of execution, how easily the tunes seem to come, and how the noise-art bits are seemingly cut short—but Mars Volta’s ability to musically create an entire world of their own never ceases to amaze me. Rather than sounding like a parody of what they once were, Bedlam is a phantasmagorical force that sparks a sense of limitless wonder. Much of their dedication to a specific musical image, one that is other-worldly and sophisticatedly “worldly” at the same time, can be the aesthetic answer to something like Lord of the Rings, with its heavy-set, action-packed imagination and never-ending mysticism.

Bedlam in Goliath is out now on Universal.

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