Album Review: The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

(Written for ELECTRIC BANANA, April 2012)

Having been in the works longer than their past releases, this is El Paso prog-rock troupe The Mars Volta’s long awaited sixth studio album.

Amidst the hype of At the Drive-In’s reunion, Noctourniquet is destined to be overshadowed – a real injustice. It is their most accessible album yet, ideal for enlisting new fans. There are no thirty-minute opuses, with just one track that passes the seven-minute mark. There are also verses and chorus in there. Somewhere. Sometimes anyway.

The bleeps and bloops of the title track’s introduction sound belong in a sci-fi movie, as Captain Spockwalker calmly wakes from a cryogenic sleep. Despite the black artwork and the title’s allusion to the night sky, the album doesn’t stay tranquil for long. There is no more relaxing zero-gravity floating, as that spaceship plummets in a violent hour-long explosion. This album doesn’t really do the whole ‘slow’ thing. When the band dips their toes into that pool in the rare slower tempo tracks, they are clearly shaken by the cold and shower the tracks with buzzsaw synthesizers, howling vocals and spectacularly quick beats. A subtle cymbal tap at the end of ‘Imago’ suggests that the band may well just be taking the mick.

This isn’t very far removed from The Mars Volta’s normal sound, just condensed into bitesize chunks. Despite this, the sound is so dense and abrasive at times that it is no easier to swallow.

The title track features its name within the lyrics. When a self-coined word finds its way in, it is no secret that this album is going to be bizarre. It’s all here. Beats played backwards. A disregard for song structures. Ending songs where they see fit without any cue that another song has even begun. There is a synthesizer section in ‘In Absentia’ which can be best described as sounding like The Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’, drowned out by an earthquake.

After ten years and six albums, The Mars Volta has presented an album ideal to ease new fans into their world. However, there is just enough challenging material to keep veteran fans happy.

Score: 7/10

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