Noctourniquet, a term coined by Cedric Bixler-Zavala, vocalist of The Mars Volta, signifies a state of mind. The term refers to a mental means of remedying the turbulent thoughts that accompany night, a way to surf the waves of life brought on by storms of inevitability. Noctourniquet is also the title of The Mars Volta’s sixth full-length studio album—a suiting title when one considers the band’s now settled dispute with Warner-Bro s. Records over the release date and prospective sales of Noctourniquet, which has finally been released as the follow-up , almost three years later, to what some consider the group’s worst album, Octahedron. On Noctourinquet , The Mars Volta’s erratic sound continues to venture into the unknown, once again rejuvenating the face of modern prog-rock in the name of introspective expression. It is the band’s first album without contributions from long time keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens and guitar virtuoso John Frusciante. Drummer, Deantoni Parks, a former collaborator on guitarist/producer Omar Rodriguez- Lopez’s side project the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, has joined the roster for this production. Over the course of their last five albums, The Mars Volta have recreated themselves time and time again. Each transformation has been derived from Rodriguez-Lopez’s fastidious and experimental production methods. Some albums have featured an amalgam of musicians playing a myriad of supporting instruments (congas, saxophone, and keyboard), increasing those album s’ symphonic dynamism while producing some lucidity amidst the chaos of Rodriguez-Lopez’s free verse guitar and Bixler-Zavala’s brooding lyrics. Other albums feature less instrumentation, distilling the band’s sound into something more reminiscent of Rodriguez-Lopez’s and Bixler Zavala’s previous band, At the Drive-In.
At first listen, Noctourniquet is not outright emblematic of The Mars Volta sound fans have grown accustomed to. However, it does bear their heterogeneous code: melodic vocals, narrative lyrics, wicked guitar phrases and dynamic layering. Unlike Frances the Mute and De-loused i n the Comatorium, Noctourniquet, is not solely vested in a singular bizarre concept nor does it feature the band’s signature lengthy instrumental jams. Noctourniquet is an album that sees Rodriguez-Lopez and his brother Marcel replace the usual cast of secondary musicians with synthesizers and samplers. Rodriguez-Lopez, being the brain trust behind The Mars Volta, abandons his signature, psychedelic six-string discourse, pursuing, instead, a voice rooted in more synthetic sounds.
The opening track, “The Whip Hand,” has a future-punk feel created by a sinister opening guitar riff that makes way for Bixler-Zavala’s echoing verse and a collection of synthetic rhythms that enter the song at irregular intervals, adding to the chaos. Three-fourths of the way into the track, Bixler-Zavala monotonously shouts “I am a landmine so don’t you step on me,” adding to the song’s militant tone . At times, the album pushes toward a post-hardcore/crowd-rock feel, especially with songs like “Dyslexicon” “Moloch Walker” and “The Malkin Jewel.” Deantoni Park s’ high tempo drum chatter is all over these tracks, filling in any gaps of would be silence. The second half of the album features slower, bluesier songs with beautiful melodic guitar riffs. The synthesizers/organs in “Lapochka,” “Trinkets Pale of Moon,” and “Imago” play less of a commanding role and seek to compliment the sentimental feel created by Bixler-Zavala’s lamenting vocals. My favorite track “In Absentia,” captures the essence of Noctourniquet’s theme and is the quintessential example of synthetic experimentation on this album. The song is heavily indebted to effects, o ne of which makes Bixler-Zavala’s voice sound as if it is being transmitted from beyond the grave. The effect reminds me of Carol calling through the television in Poltergeist. “In Absentia” is crafted into two parts. The first is a sort of requiem told about a boy who is mourning his exile “In Absentia.” The drums and synthesizers are drenched in a heavy, decay-reverb effect, giving the track an otherworldly atmosphere. The second half of the song begins without notice and sounds like a completely new track. The tempo speeds up and the ominous noises morph into a hip-hop drumbeat with bright synthetic rhythms that swoop between the triumphant lyrics sung from the view of the protagonist who has conquered evil and been exalted.
“In Absentia” is about a mock state of mind, the concept behind the term, Noctourniquet. The song gives the word a frame of reference and places the album in a context that suggests turmoil. Noctourniquet’s, shorter, more accessible style is somewhat of a contradiction to what The Mars Volta have always done—finding a way to recreate themselves while staying true to their mission as musicians. That mission, which has always been to celebrate the internal monologue despite fans and corporate labels, has not been easy. Despite this, Noctourniquet celebrates the transience of creation. It is innovative and sonically loaded. Noctourniquet’s tracks are moody and pensive, and overall it displays much of what fans love about The Mars Volta production-wise, while keenly pushing their sound forward through experimentation with synthetic instrumentation.