The Mars Volta - 'Noctourniquet'

After 4 albums of blissful excess, The Mars Volta attempted something on 2009’s ‘Octahedron’ most people thought they weren’t capable of – restraint. The results were promising, but ultimately mixed. Now it feels as though the promise of that concept has finally been fulfilled.

‘Noctourniquet’ sees them operating in the same mind space, with an effort that is so much more successful, so much more rewarding. Make no mistake, this Volta is still a decidedly stripped back version of the band from all those albums ago. In fact, fewer musicians are featured on this album than any previous release, with the studio band a lean, mean 5 piece for the first time ever. Unlike ‘Octahedron’ however, which so often felt like a stab in the dark at “something different”, ‘Noctourniquet’ feels like an album with purpose. The band is stripped back for a damn good reason, and that’s to highlight those two factors that really make The Mars Volta – Cedric and Omar.

Can we talk about Cedric for a minute? We’ve become so used to his voice becoming another instrument buried in Omar’s many layered arrangements, that given a little room to breathe, his performance here is a revelation. The songs seem like shrewd soundscapes designed for the express purpose of letting Cedric imprint himself all over them. He capitalises on the opportunity with mean intent, showing off an assortment of vocal skills heretofore unheard. His confident melodies, meanwhile, provide most of the albums best hooks. Omar, for his part, reminds why he’s a great guitarist. The absence of regular studio guitarist John Frusciante proves a blessing in that sense. It’s a real showpiece for the fuzzy, reverb laced explorations he has made his trademark.

It’s an honest performance that makes this feel like the most intrinsically Volta album in years.

— Contributed by Bar Elbaum