Released: June 23, 2009
Label: Warner Bros.
By: Eric Garza
The Mars Volta has always been the band to polarize their audience and scare off newcomers. Listeners will either love the seemingly nonsensical/chaotic/effects driven music, or hate it. However, with their fifth studio release, Octahedron, The Mars Volta have crafted quite possibly their most “user-friendly” collection of progressive rock songs since their 2003 debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium.
Octahedron displays a subtle and cohesive listen that feels more like a single, straightforward journey as opposed to last years frenzied and confused Bedlam in Goliath. Although the album boasts only 8 tracks, it clocks in at a solid 50 minutes. Each track flows seamlessly into the next, often making the listener feel as if the record is one continuous arrangement divided into eight cuts.
Yes, there are the trademarked Mars Volta elements of extended track lengths (however, only one exceeds the eight minute mark) and utterly confusing Cedric Bixler-Zavala lyrics, but each song feels exquisitely linear and easily accessible. Absent is the strained feeling of strung out and extended improvisational jams put to tape and layered with effects driven guitar and vocal tracks.
On stellar jams like “Since We’ve Been Wrong” and “With Twilight As My Guide,” the band weaves in an out of psychedelic consciousness with Bixler-Zavala’s haunting vocals tracked over Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ steady and eerily-driven acoustic guitar melodies, providing a unique style and feel that only The Mars Volta could capture. However, the band has not wholly abandoned their trademarked “organized chaos” style. “Cotopaxi” and “Teflon” see the Volta display exactly why they are high royalty in the prog-rock court. These tracks are displayed on a solid foundation of jazz and Latin fusion and backed with complex song structure and irregular time signature. Regardless of which Mars Volta you prefer, from the stripped down and straightforward approach to solid song writing, to the excessive collision of musical styles and genres, Octahedron has something to offer old and new fans alike.
According to Bixler-Zavala, Octahedron is the band’s attempt at a more “pop” and “acoustic” record, and that this is what their band does — “celebrate mutations.” All I have to say is, if this is The Mars Volta’s idea of mutation, then viva la evolución.