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The Mars Volta – Octahedron

  • Review by: Subhramani Sathyanarayan

Your instant reaction after “hearing” to this album will be that this is so much unlike TMV. Yes, it sounds different, but it still does not fail to deliver their stereotypical psychedelic feel. So, do yourself a favour, stop hearing, and start listening on your excursion through their latest track-list.

The creative driving force of the band, Omar Lopez and Zavala have toned down the prog-rock epics and the dizzying song arrangements rendering that psychedelic feel  to highlight the band’s instrumental interludes and vocals.

The band members referred to this album as an “acoustic album”. Literally, because it is less chaotic, less bombastic, more forgiving than their earlier releases. Non-literally – Huh, you call this acoustic? You see, I have only expressed the album to be “less chaotic” which literally means it is still chaotic, or is it?

Strategically, this is an inverse of the formula used by the band. And, I think it is something I might have contemplated and wished for whilst listening to their last album. Instead of inserting slow-tracks amidst crazily fast tracks, this album inserts mid-tempo tracks amidst slow ones. There is a difference.

You see, in The Bedlam in Goliath, despite loving the album to a great extent, there were moments when I’d hope that they (TMV) “go easy”. The complexity in orchestration, the intensity in the words left me in short of breath. Heavy guitars, pounding drums, multiple-layers of music when listened via some good quality speakers made you feel as if you were been hit first in the head and then been tortured in your subconscious state.  Even though I enjoyed it, I still speculated that going slightly slow, might broaden their prospective.

This album puts the band on a tough test. When the intensity in the music rendered by electrical add-ons is turned down, it is completely up to the instrument and its immaculate sound to deliver the intensity. This, in-turn, challenges the instrument player as well. Also, since, there are not many layers in the music, lyrics need to be apt to contribute to a great melody. Precisely, everything becomes much more crucial when played neat. I am glad to report, TMV have capitalised on the same to emerge successful. In other words, almost all songs have memorable qualities.

No, it is not that the band has gone tender. The progressive elements still prevail. The intensity and complexity are still there. It is just merely turned tad down this time. So, relax, the band is not swaying into the pop lane.

The lyrics cover both the aspects of a victim and a tormentor around themes of deceit, abduction, mental turmoil thereby showing “slightly” varying contrasts.  It is not easy to decode the bands’ lyrics as the obtuseness continues to remain in the self-conscious and cracked lyrics.

One could argue that, probably, the lean towards the softer side was way too much for the band. But, I judge anyone who thinks so must be because of the 18 month gap after their last release.

The first track is something I would refer to as a radio-hit. Catchy guitar tunes, emotional impact of the lyrics will make the non-TMV fans to like the song as well. Televators, carries hypnotizing guitar riffs and atmospheric and ambient elements making it quite pleasant. The fusion of Blues and Jazz in Copernicus is indeed a surprise.

Having written all the above, I am only dissatisfied with the Grammy-award winning band’s jam session like feel in a few songs. It isn’t as “tremendously impacting” as their previous releases. There is nothing new and one might call it dull as well. This might probably be due to the shift from their regular heavy and noisy pattern at which they excelled also, which had comparatively lesser bands playing so to a soft style where there are comparatively better bands. Still, I am glad they are on the road. They may be driving their Ferrari on the bus lane in NYC, this time. But, at least they are not going the wrong way.

I suspect it is the more number of slow-tracks that might push their audience away. After all, not many people appreciate the experimental aspect of any band. The music is less adventurous making it lean away from aggressive progressive rock (if I may) to hard rock/progressive rock. Even the indie rock and punk element infused by the band in the past has been put away this time. Still, I refrain myself from classifying this as experimental as there is nothing new apart from the change in ratio of speed. Experimental, for the band – may be. Experimental, genre wise – not really.

If you keep an open mind while listening to this album, you will realize that, yes, this might be less intense, but the overload of ideas still prevail within their lyrics which fills the gap that the less intense music leaves. Frankly, this balance needs to be encouraged before we are fed up with their songs being noisy all the time.

Highlights of the album: Since We’ve Been Wrong, Teflon, Cotopaxi, Copernicus.