It's been four years since Bedlam in Goliath, the album that spawned the Grammy winning 'Wax Simulacra', the bold cry to the world that prog is not dead. Your contemporary music listener of the day may struggle to believe that prog still has a pulse; despite the success the band achieved at the Grammys, the album was still relatively slated by the hip and trendy music press (Pitchfork gave it a very unflattering 4.3). But, whilst the popular music press may seem to have turned its back on what was possibly the most exciting musical movement ever at its peak in the late 60s and 70s, that hardly means that the world will follow suit and cast bands like The Mars Volta into unknown obscurity.
Something has changed here though. The longest song on the album is a modest 7 minutes 27 seconds and, whilst the prog-enthusiasts have yet to hang up their jazz-fusion and percussion-centric influences (thank God!), the once bat-shit crazy tempo that was the bands template on past releases seems to have been replaced with a much tamer one. Call it a clichÃ©, but this revitalised sound has enabled the group to produce what may very well be the most accessible album in their 11 year history. Take 'Molochwalker' for example; the anomalous title gives the impression of your average Mars Volta track, but where's the 3 minute run up and down the fret-board and why isn't Cedris Bixler-Zavala floating between English and Spanish? It seems that the band have gone soft in their old age, the album having much more of an emphasis on its softer elements rather than the erratic guitar styling of Omar RodrÃ®guez-Lopez. 'Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound' and 'Trinkets Pale of Moon' best portray these softer elements, 'Empty Vessels.' perhaps surpassing 'Televators' as the bands most exemplary slowed down tracks. Rodriguez can evidently still make his guitar screech so triumphantly, it can be heard from space.
Speaking as a mutual fan of the band's output (I'm more of an ATDI man, myself), it's hard to think of how the group's most hardcore fan-base will take this album. It's very likely to stand next to Octahedron; not hated but probably forgotten about by the end of the year. Let's face it, the group are hardly likely to surpass the brilliance of their first release. De-Loused in the Comatorium had an edge and a freshness that will take a lot of effort to surpass, but the band are evidently progressing still and taking on new influences from unexpected areas. On 'The Malkin Jewel' for example, you could be forgiven for thinking that the band had decided to cover some Nick Cave tracks giving them the prog edge that few people could have asked for.
Noctourniquet is a precarious bridge treaded on by the band, taking them to a future sound that could work for them very well ('Empty Vessels.') or very negatively ('The Malkin Jewel'). Whenever it comes, it will be nice to see where this bridge has taken them on their next release.
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