Album review: The Mars Volta – ‘Octahedron’

Mellowed out? Pull the other one, it's got prog on

“Mellow” and “acoustic”: terms not normally associated with – and not really welcome anywhere near – The Mars Volta, but terms applied by the band themselves to their latest effort. Before you run off in a rage proclaiming their demise and holding ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ close to your bosom, though, stop panicking. This might be their ‘reflective’ effort, but it’s classic MV.

For a start, obtuse references reign supreme. The mathematical album title alludes to (take a seat) a hexany, whose six-tone scale sees notes placed on the vertices of an octahedron. One track, ‘Halo Of Nembutals’, refers to a barbiturate often associated with euthanasia while another is named after a South American volcano. And with half the tracks over seven minutes long, it’s still business as usual.

Of course it’s not bereft of the odd manic freak-out, even if it does take until halfway in to roll round. UK single ‘Cotopaxi’ (the volcano track) is textbook stuff, a wah-textured prog nugget indebted to genre godfathers King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’. In fact KC’s ethos is echoed across ‘Octahedron’; the guitar weeps and the maudlin strings of ‘Since We’ve Been Wrong’ mirror their ‘The Night Watch’ while late ’70s faintly evil-sounding prog haunts every corner of the album.

From ‘Cotopaxi’ on, it’s familiar territory, with ‘Desperate Graves’’ itchy drums and closer ‘Luciform’’s twisted menace, but on repeated listens it’s the first four that emerge as the most rewarding; ‘With Twilight As My Guide’ is as eerily evocative as its title might suggest and ‘Halo Of Nembutals’ is an epic Homer would shoot his father to come up with. Quiet, it seems, is the new mental.

Tim Chester

Click here to get your copy of The Mars Volta’s ‘Octahedron’ from the Rough Trade shop.

Free music – Octahedron