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Octahedron is the stunning new album from The Mars Volta. An album heady with the emotion and high-drama that has always been the band's trademark, their newfound simplicity and focus has delivered some of the most immediate and powerful songs in their discography. The album opens with the tender ache of "Since We've Been Wrong", Cedric's keening vocal establishing a mood that's deeply blue, powerfully melancholic, a suckerpunch that hits every bit as hard as Octahedron's unashamed rockers (the gleaming futuristic funk of "Teflon", the tense chase-music of "Cotopaxi"). Pulling back from the full-tilt experimentation of previous releases, the album invests its energies in Omar's gift for songcraft, for swooning guitar runs of high tension and emotive power ("Luciforms"' epic riffage), and for the nagging hooks and melodies that wreath the churning rhythms of "Desperate Graves".
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. --Chris Jones
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Top customer reviews
The unusual thing however; is that with any other Mars Volta cd the repeated listenings unveil hidden saxophone parts, guitar licks you hadn't heard before or hidden layers of vocals that you missed while concentrating on the drums.
With Octahedron its what you don't hear which becomes so impressive with each new listen. The focus, clarity and purity of this album is what's breath taking; The band likened it to an acoustic album not because of the instrumentation but because of the stripped down feel and intimacy that this record has.
Opener 'Since We've Been Wrong,' may feel like a ponderous Televators-alike when you first skeptically listen to the album, but the haunting vocal performance and unusually decipherable lyrics will at first challange your skepticism, impress you and finally make you fall in love.
That is the perfect example of why this album is so magnificent, songs like 'With Twilight As My Guide,' and 'Halo of Nembutals,' insinuate themselves into your brain and slowly wrap themselves around the pleasure centres.
The album is however no all-ballad oddity with no power, single 'Cotapaxi,'is a frantic punky song that would fit right in on The Bedlam in Goliath and album closer 'Luciforms,' features an impressive Omar solo along with some fine complicated material that stops the album from feeling like a complete departure from tradition.
Some fans may be dismissive of this record because they wanted something brash, noisy, busy and confusing but were instead treated to the most deliberate and thoughtful Mars Volta album to date and that's the great thing about the band, you never know what to expect.
Chances are, if you are a fan, then you are fairly open to 'different' music, in which case, give it a go, but approach with and open mind.
Secondly, as another reviewer pointed out, the sonics are better balanced and the production is superb. For example, previous albums tend to - not always - have too much much treble (particularly on the guitar). Listeners without a burning desire to give themselves tinnitus while playing music full-blast will be happy about this, because you want to hear the awesomeness of all of the components of the band interacting together without some massively overloaded high-end frequencies on guitar or vocals destroying your inner ear at the same time. To mix and produce these guys must be a total nightmare with so many instruments competing for a look-in.
So, along with the overall greatness of the music, the interesting lyrics, good balance of song vibes and fantastic production makes this an eminently listenable album and I'd highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in rock music, let alone genuine prog rock.
I found this album a breath of fresh air and a welcome change from the frenetic energy of their previous albums. Don't get me wrong, I love The Mars Volta but it's nice when they tone it down a little occasionally and let the instruments breathe a little, and this album does that.
It does feel like a stepping stone to their next album though, whatever that will be. I'm still waiting fo something on the level of 'Deloused In The Comatorium', which would almost get my vote for album of the 00's.
Put simply, if you're familiar with the Volta and like them, get this album. If you're looking for an introduction to them, get their first album, 'Deloused...'
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