Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, guitar player and main creative force behind The Mars Volta, recorded the initial guitar and effects for their 2012 release Noctourniquet in 2009, shortly after releasing Octahedron. It took about about two years before Cedric Bixler-Zavala, vocalist, lyricist, and dance machine, wrote lyrics and recorded vocals. By the time Rodriguez-Lopez finished recording Noctourniquet had aged, and not for the better. There is something very, very wrong with a Mars Volta album when more than a few songs are under five minutes and you can understand the meaning of the lyrics on your first listen. “Dyslexicon” and “Molochwalker” sound the most traditionally Volta of any tracks on the album, the later featuring a dual guitar-drum solo sufficiently boggling the mind.
If you’ve come to expect distorted atonal guitar riffs, distressing ambient effects and confusing time signatures in your Mars Volta, then I’m pleased to report you can find all of those things on Noctourniquet. You won’t find, however, the Volta’s same quality, or rather quantity, of musicianship. On any given track Rodriguez-Lopez rarely plays more than a few notes, and only on the last two tracks does Juan Alderete’s (my personal favorite member of the Volta) bass mastery stand out. If not for Deantoni Parks’ intricate drumming many of the tracks on Noctourniquet would fall flat. This is Parks’ first appearance on a Mars Volta album, and the album sounds much better because of it. I found myself listening to a number of tracks, especially “Aegis” and “Noctourniquet” time after time just to fully appreciate how Parks toys with the beat.
While Noctourniquet falls short in the overall musicianship, the album makes up for it with a surprisingly strong selection of slow-jams. “Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound” and “Vedamalady” pace slow, brooding introductions with more energetic development, making them actually sound beautiful. The Volta hasn’t produced this quality of beautiful music since “Eriatarka” and “Televators” from Deloused in the Comatorium.
Had any other prog rock group released Noctourniquet, I would find it more endearing, since the music is by no means bad. Coming from The Mars Volta, however, Noctourniquet cannot compare to the quality of their previous work. Clearly the Volta did not put their whole heart into this album, and with the exception of Deantoni Parks’ spectacular drumming the signs of the album’s age clearly shine through. Don’t completely push Noctourniquet aside, though. “Dyslexicon” and “Molochwalker” keep the traditional Volta energy for those who prefer their earlier work, and tracks like “Vedamalady” and “Noctourniquet” show what greatness the Volta can accomplish when they tone the energy and insanity down.
1. The Whip Hand
4. Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound
5. The Malkin Jewel
7. In Absentia
10. Trinkets Pale of Moon
13. Zed And Two Naughts