Album Review: The Mars Volta – Octahedron

The Mars Volta - OctahedronAlbum Review: The Mars Volta
Album: Octahedron
Label: Warner Brothers Records

Last year I wrote my first review for this blog. The Bedlam in Goliath was the first album featured here, and my lengthy, fairly pretentious review had me finding it a bit of a mixed bag. Despite growing to like it a little bit more during the year, it’s certainly stuck out as the black sheep of the already pretty varied MV catalogue even today. But this isn’t about Bedlam; yes, another year has passed and despite the staggering amount of side projects going on, the band have released their fifth album into the wild.

I’ll admit to being a bit weary of the pre-hype for Octahedron. In the run up to the album’s release it was standard to see the usual quotes flying around the internet about it being their “poppiest album yet” or yet another outlandish comparison to their revered debut, Deloused in the Comatorium. It’s everything we all heard about the last albums since Frances the Mute divided opinions more than marmite. But something rather profound has happened – the speculations have turned out to have a fair amount of truth behind them.

Octahedron’s first half is shockingly placid and mellow, rejecting the instant raucous of Bedlam and instead replacing it with steady tempo’d ballads, closer to the likes of Pink Floyd in their atmosphere than any MV album before it. At every point there is an anticipation that things can’t remain this noticeably calm for long, and every time you expect the songs to kick off into five minute drum solos or wild guitar trickery the music turns a blind eye, focusing much more on texture and soundscape than keeping the volume above that of an industrial pneumatic drill.

Let me assure you, it’s no bad thing. No more are you left tolerating Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s ever increasing shrieks, nor do the band force you to listen to Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s experiments with his new guitar pedal purchases. Instead the band build melody and power with soft strokes, like an artist delicately brushing the fine details of their masterpiece. ‘Since We’ve Been Wrong’ tugs at oft-untouched heart strings with its contemplative tone, ‘Teflon’ increases the funk factor with a groovy drum rhythm sounding like it’s being played in reverse and a malevolently delivered chorus that makes the hair on the back of the neck stand on end and ‘With Twilight as my Guide’ is a slick ballad, laced with surreal imagery.

Naturally, the whole thing isn’t just an ode to the likes of Jethro Tull. Come midway, just at the right point, the band move to more familiar territory. ‘Cotopaxi’ kicks off with a weighty riff, blowing the cobwebs from the ear and shows that they’ve learnt how to cram a fair amount of twists and turns into a sub four-minute track. But it’s just a flash in a pan, as things revert to that mellow sound soon after with the delicate ‘Copernicus’. Just consider that sentence for a second – I used the word delicate to describe a Mars Volta track. Jeeping fuck!

Whether it’s old age, or just the culmination of what everyone expected them to do, Octahedron is the Volta’s most thoughtful work yet. Whilst their talent has never been in question, their ability to control their urges always has been, and this is the perfect remedy to those doubts. The few moments of exuberent eccentricity (such as the minute of silence before the album even starts) are forgiveable when compared to the strength of the rest of the album. The deluge of side projects surrounding the Mars Volta camp may be difficult for most to keep up with, but it would seem that by stretching themselves about a bit, their main project has only improved. Octahedron is the band’s most listenable piece of work to date, a great feat considering it doesn’t sacrifice the depth and intrigue that keeps most Mars Volta listening coming back every time. Winner.

Listen to Octahedron on Spotify

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