The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet (2012)

Let me start off by saying that The Mars Volta is not a band whose discography I have familiarized myself with. I have listened to an assortment of songs from random albums and really have no sentimental attachment to this band like so many people. The thing that attracted me to this band was actually their old drummer Thomas Pridgen. If you’re a follower of modern drumming then you’ve probably heard of Pridgen who is known for winning the Guitar Center Drum-Off at the ripe age of 9, a year later becoming the youngest person to ever receive an endorsement from Zildjian, and other prodigious shit like getting a 4 year scholarship to Berklee at age 15. He’s a badass and after five seconds of Wax Simulacra you’ll know what I’m talking about. The band doesn’t have Thomas Pridgen anymore, but they still have their fast, noisy, in your face brand of progressive rock that they’ve become known for. The best thing about this album is how full every song sounds. All the basic elements of a band (guitar, bass, drums, vocals) are the most immediate sounds to hit the ears, but the real secret to the atmosphere of this album are the synthesizers and the production. On the opening track The Whip Hand, a synth buzzes back and forth between the guitar and drums before another synth explodes into a  heavy trip-hop break. Meanwhile, a higher pitched Cedric Bixler-Zavala scares away mainstream music fans by screeching “I am a landmine/ So don’t you step on me.” This album doesn’t sound like any progressive rock that I’ve ever heard. Like other prog rock bands there is a high level of instrumental ability, odd time signatures, and strange guitar tones, but The Mars Volta feels like a different animal. For one thing they are a lot noisier than most prog rock I’ve heard, a lot faster and a lot busier. The single The Malkin Jewel, for instance, hardly sounds like a single with it’s complicated arrangement that feels like two songs being played at once. The band attacks with full force on tracks like Molochwalker, The Whip Hand, the fantastic Dyslexicon, and parts of Aegis,but what surprised me most about this album is how many songs are actually slower and more chilled out. What surprised me even more is how quickly the slower songs became some of my favorites. Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound, Trinkets Pale of Moon, and In Absentia are not only catchy, but also beautiful. The only problem with the pace of some of these songs is that they make an already long album (64 minutes and 31 seconds) feel even longer. I admit that while I really like this album, I rarely ever sit down and listen to the whole thing in one sitting because it is simply so long. The track lengths are also somewhat long, averaging somewhere around five minutes which can be too long for songs like Zed and Two Naughts, which is also a little repetitive. But hey, maybe I just have A.D.D. The length, however, is merely a wispy cloud in an otherwise clear sky. The bright moments are blinding. The abrupt shift and guitar part in the last two minutes of In Absentia, the vocals in Vedamalady, and the build up to the end of Empty Vessels are just a few of them. Overall? It’s a great album that I wasn’t expecting and I know I’ll be revisiting it throughout the year over and over.

Overall: 8/10

My Itunes Track Ratings:

The Whip Hand: ****
Aegis: *****
Dyslexicon: *****
The Malkin Jewel: *****
Lapochka: ***
In Absentia: *****
Imago: ***
Molochwalker: ***
Trinkets Pale of Moon: ****
Vedamalady: ****
Noctourniquet: ***
Zed And Two Naughts: ***

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