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Mars Volta Octahedron Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Their fifth studio album sees them rein in their more histrionic tendencies.

Chris Jones 2009

The fifth studio album by America's premier nu-prog exponents may not, as predicted, see them exactly 'mellow out', but it certainly sees them rein in their more histrionic tendencies.

While the album doesn't come close to vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala's description of it as 'acoustic' you do see what he's getting at. Unlike their classic work such as Drunkship Of Lanterns (from De-Loused In The Comatorium) or Francis The Mute's two multi-part suites, this is slightly more subdued fare, with the more ambient moments allowed to hang in the air for extended periods (cf: the segue between Copernicus and Luciforms).

Of course when talking of the work of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala it's always necessary to tick off the prog tropes: Impenetrably, vocabulary-wideningly cryptic lyrics? Check. Worryingly garish sleeve art featuring sixth form surrealism? Check (though, thankfully, they've replaced the bafflingly popular kitsch of Hipgnosis' Storm Thorgerson with the work of painter Jeff Jordan). Playful sonic trickery? (the barely audible extended intro to Since We've Been Wrong) Check.

Since We've been Wrong is a strangely close cousin to Metallica's Nothing Else Matters, albeit far more musically accomplished. With Twilight As My Guide has hints of fantasy/medievalism, while Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar recreates the seagull squawks of David Gilmour. Copernicus tempers Cedric's tendency to be overly fraught in the vocal department by dealing out the fever dream creepiness that their most reflective moments can induce.

Yet there are still the stop-start thrills of Cotopaxi and Luciforms, as well as the effects-fest of Desperate Graves to keep the noiseniks happy.

Octahedron shows the band maintaining a frighteningly productive work rate (this follows Omar's fabulous solo album Old Money, and a follow-up is apparently already in the can, as well as a self-made documentary film) while continuing to mature. Their motives still seem slightly self-important, yet that's the paradoxical appeal of this kind of music. Its vaulting ambition demands over-inflated self-confidence. And MV have that in spades.

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