The Mars Volta continues its legacy with ‘Noctourniquet’

Mal Hartigan

The Mars Volta, one of the decade’s most experimental and musically diverse progressive rock bands, continues its 11-year-long success with the March 26th release of “Noctourniquet.”

The band’s sixth studio album characteristically contains Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s unique vocals, wailing high notes over mathematically complex guitar riffs and complicated drum patterns. Each track is distinctive and avoids repetition, especially since some songs do not feature a chorus.

The album doesn’t start with a bang, but listeners shouldn’t be fooled; the opening track, “The Whip Hand,” makes up for its slow intro with Zavala’s powerful and enthusiastic vocals. An electronic keyboard line surfaces as the vocals build, adding an exotic texture.

“The Malkin Jewel,” the album’s single, proves slower and darker. Zavala’s vocals remain surprisingly low until the song’s climax, demonstrating his versatility while providing a change of pace.

Like previous albums, “Noctourniquet” shares rhythmic expertise between drums, bass and guitar melodies during long instrumental breaks. “Aegis,” the second track, begins with more prominent drums and flirts with intricate rhythms throughout.

“Zed and Two Naughts,” the concluding track, is the album’s gem. Starting with light vocal harmonies, it transitions to a haunting verse that builds into a flawless chorus. The vocals are catchy and most memorable.

“Noctourniquet” has notable differences compared to the group’s debut, “De-Loused in the Comatorium,” such as the incorporated electronic sounds. It was also rumored the band recently found a new drummer.

Formed in 2001, the group has seen several band members come and go, including bassists, multiple drummers and keyboardists, but retains its charismatic and unique reputation. John Frusciante played guitar in the studio for six years and occasionally performed at The Mars Volta’s live shows. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea was in studio for the group’s debut album and played trumpet on the second album, “Frances the Mute.”

Omar Rodríguez-López and Zavala, who formed The Mars Volta after leaving the band At The Drive-In, have been the only consistent members. Rodríguez-López, the director, producer and back-up vocalist, is the mastermind behind each song. After “Noctourniquet,” Rodríguez-López said he wanted to increase members’ involvement in creating future songs rather than controlling it himself.

For long-term fans, this album proves musical growth and experimentation, but may lack the same edge from the group’s debut. The Mars Volta’s relentless energy has transformed into subtler vocals and electronic additions. “Noctourniquet” features more slow-paced songs, but remains fresh and vocally varied.

Fusing jazz, progressive rock, math rock and Latin American elements, “Noctourniquet” continues The Mars Volta legacy.

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