The Mars Volta are at it again! The progressive rock group released Noctourniquet, their sixth studio album, last Monday. This latest effort arrives over two years after their last album, the longest amount of time between Mars Volta releases. Not only did fans of the band have to wait longer for new music from their usually restlessly-prolific band, but what they got in Noctourniquet were songs no one could have really expected.
Since the band’s inception, the Mars Volta have always been praised and scrutinised under a very strong and critical lens of modern rock enthusiasts. The band has been known to be innovative, evident in the music’s structure, complexity, and ambition. Yet the Mars Volta still possessed a sound one could associate with them, whether it was Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s wailing, screeching guitar or slow-fast-slow-fast-faster progressions found in any of their seven- to eight-minute songs.
So imagine the reaction when the first new song off Noctourniquet was streamed on the band’s website about a month prior to the album’s release. ‘The Malkin Jewel’ is, by the band’s own admission, something they’ve never done. Unlike the polished, complex, and layered sound many fans associate with the band, the new track is spare, messy, and sounds about half-complete. It also sounds like it’d been recorded in a basement. Many fans declared the song an indication of the downfall of one of today’s most innovative rock bands.
Of course, ‘The Malkin Jewel’ and all its messy greatness is yet another deliberate departure for the Mars Volta. In interviews, Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala discussed the challenges they faced in creating what felt natural to them. And naturally, what has felt natural for them has worked for them, and what has worked for them has brought them both success and their fan base.
In the past, the band has been accused rather unfairly of alienating their fans. The band, however, has never been short of boldness, and this need for them to create something new, foremost for themselves and then as a result for their fans, is more important to them as artists than continuing to do what is expected of them. This has been said of many artists in every art form, and it is often preached by artists themselves. How many of them truly adhere to this philosophy of drastic reinvention? Oftentimes, we fans enjoy the good speech, and then the artist will come out with a string of simulacra.
I never feel that way with the Mars Volta. Each new release really will surprise, and Noctourniquet is certainly no exception. In addition to the garage-y jaggedness of ‘The Malkin Jewel,’ listen to ‘Vedamalady’ below. I assure you that these songs are done by the same group of people.