Released: Jun 23, 2009
Genre: Progressive rock, experimental rock
Label: Warner Bros., Mercury
Number Of Tracks: 8
The Mars Volta's latest 50 minute epic 'Octahedron' manages to push the boundaries of how far a band may go with a successful standard pop song structure.
Hendrix_fan_14, on july 02, 2009 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: The Mars Volta's latest 50 minute epic 'Octahedron' manages to push the boundaries of how far a band may go with a successful standard pop song structure. While the previous album 'The Bedlam in Goliath' was loud, loud, loud and played at the highest tempo possible, 'Octahedron' sees Omar and co. playing in unfamiliar territory..
'Octahedron' sees the band shedding the personnel of Adrin Terrazas-Gonzlez and Paul Hinojos who the band have steadily relied on ever since the highly successful prog masterpieces 'De-loused in the Comatorium' and 'Frances the Mute' respectively.
The overall sound sees the band experimenting (surprised?) with a more stripped down song structure. However given the description the casual listener would not expect to see the usual escapades the Mars Volta manage to get up to. Pulsating bass and steady drums set the scene nicely for many of Octahedron's 8 songs. Jazz piano, soft guitar lines until the magnifiencent guitar solo eruption seen in the closing track 'Luciforms'. Acoustic guitars are prevalent which sees Cedric singing more Soulful vocals. However it is the subtle touches like the synth starting off "Since We've Been Wrong" or the King Crimson esque Mellotrons along with the nice harmonisation of Cedric's vocals that make Octahedron an enjoyable listen. However there is a sense of something missing that made De-loused in the Comatoriumso sucessful such as the engaging narrative contained in lyrics which in 'Octahedron' is missing, kidnapped apparently.
But don't get me wrong 'Octahedron' has some of Cedric's best vocals and lyrics he has ever done along with some of their best experimentation // 7
Lyrics: 'Octahedron' sees Cedric Bixler-Zavala singing about matchsticks and 'fingernail choirs that will make your chalkboard sing.' Cedric's lyrics are definitely on par with his other efforts yet disappointingly lack the same edge seen in their debut. However there are some highlights which will have you singing from dawn to dusk. Did I mention they are catchy? An good example of this is the radio friendly 'Since We've Been Wrong' and 'Copernicus' not too mention the breathtakingly eerie "With Twilight As My Guide" As well as the deathly mantra "Let the wheels burn, let the wheels burn stack the tires to the neck with the body inside. seen in the oval office grunt of 'Teflon'
Unlike other Mars Volta albums the music manages to fit with the lyrics. An escape from the usual Omar composing the music than Cedric fitting lyrics to the music. Octahedron gives the impression of the other way round.
Cedric makes good use with the upper register as well as demonstrating a good ability of lower ballad sounds seen throughout the whole album. I was most impressed with Cedric's contribution to Octahedron. // 8
Overall Impression: While 'Octahedron' is a worthwhile listen it may see the most devoted and obsessed fans shaking their heads from the highly successful use of the pop song structure. However this also has it's pro's as this may tap into the market allowing more people to appreciate their music and hear it from radio ect.
I feel that 'Octahedron' was a once off given that Omar's overused quote of "I want to progress our sound, evolve, blah blah blah" For all I know the next album could be a salsa album (I wish!) 'Octahedron' is a largely worthwhile listen but makes you wish of putting something more worthwhile on such as 'De-loused' ect. Don't let this put you off it though! Soon enough you'll hear Cedric singing about 'Gordian knots' and 'bury me in gold' and what's that? Oh it's Omar combusting for about 2 minutes. Good show. // 7
unregistered, on july 02, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: First thing's first, this is my first review, so don't be expecting anything golden. Right, now with that in mind, on with the more important stuff.
One of the first things you'll notice with Octahedron is the flawless production by Omar Rodrguez-Lpez. Every note and every beat is recorded and mixed with absolute grace and clarity which wonderfully compliments the exploration into the 'softer' side of The Mars Volta's music.
Another noticable aspect of the album is that the somewhat experienced TMV listener will come to realise that this is the band's most accessable album to date. With a much more 'verse-chorus-verse-chorus' structure than previous albums. Although unfortunately while the album may see the band get slightly more time on the radio it does make the album come off like a bunch of B-Sides to The Bedlam In Goliath strung together with a monotonous and ominous synthesiser tone.
Don't get me wrong though, the album definately has some worth-while tracks. 'With Twilight As My Guide' is arguabley the most beautiful thing Omar and Cedric have ever been responsible for creating, and the album does show real growth in that aspect. However the finer efforts tend to get dragged down by some of the more (I can't believe I'm using this word in a Mars Volta review) mainstream tracks, which sound like a very stripped down and restricted form of the band (The track 'Desperate Graves' is a prime example). It is tracks like these on this album which don't really allow the song to develop and blossom as we're used to hearing from The Mars Volta.
Now if someone were to say to me that this is a mainstream rock album executed in The Mars Volta fashion, then taking that into context I would enjoy this album much more, because at least it says what it does on the tin. However no such statement has been made (at least that I'm aware of) so it feels as if I'm meant to accept this album as a genuine offering from the band, which makes me feel a bit more cheated. // 7
Lyrics: It appears Cedric has really mastered his vocal ability and style on this album, he has proved capable of capturing the same drama and emotion displayed in his vocal 'cries' (for lack of a better phrase) as he can in a whisper (Since We've Been Wrong, With Twilight As My Guide and Copernicus are all representative of this statement.)
As for the lyrics on the album it appears Cedric has finally put down his thesaurus and has begun utilizing more words that the average human being is capable of pronouncing. Although occaisionally a word or two will slip in which causes the mind to boggle. Also I believe that this 'softer' side of the music has resulted in Cedric being able to produce lyrics with more style, grace and poetry than ever displayed in a Mars Volta album before. Overall, I can't really fault this aspect of the album. // 10
Overall Impression: Ideally, this album works best as a sequel to The Bedlam In Goliath. Opposing the 'loud-loud-loud' dynamic of the previous album with a more gentle approach. Similar to how many bands might release albums with an 'acoustic' secondary disc. And in my opinion that is all this album can be taken for.
With 8 tracks clocking in at 50 minutes overall, Octahedron proves to be the band's shortest studio offering yet, which makes me slightly let down if I'm honest. Seeing as the average TMV album clocks in at around 70-75 minutes.
If this album were by any other band I would give it a straight 10, however I've seen the potential and ability that this band has, so with that taken into context, I'll have to mark it down, although it is definately worth a listen. // 8
Kwyjibo2006, on july 03, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: Well, it's been 18 months since The Mars Volta's last effort, "The Bedlam In Goliath", an album which showcased Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and the rest of the Mars Volta Group at quite simply their craziest. The 76-minute epic of insane songs played at insane speeds was well recieved by critics after the somewhat dissapointing "Amputechture", but "The Bedlam In Goliath" did not fare as well with fans of the band. However, on this, their fifth studio album, entitled "Octahedron", the band has created the biggest contrast with Bedlam, something Cedric dubbed as their "acoustic album". Due to the new direction of the band, Rodriguez-Lopez asked longtime members, saxophonist Adrin Terrazas-Gonzlez and sound manipulator Paul Hinojos to leave the band, which both did amicably. Some fans may turn away at the fact that this truly is the Volta's equivalent to a "pop album", but probably the most surprising thing about this new direction for the band is that it works. Well.
With the title "Octehedron", it comes as no surprise that their latest effort is 8 songs, and being an album with more pop-structured songs, the songs are much shorter than typical Mars Volta. This results in their shortest album thus far, clocking in at about 50 minutes, considerably shorter than their last three albums. Also, similar to "Amputechture", the album is not driven by one sole concept.
That being said, some fans may miss the 16 minute epics, the jazz freakouts and the random time signature changes found on earlier records. However, with "Octahedron", the Mars Volta have easily created some of their catchiest and most accessible material to date. // 8
Lyrics: Cedric Bixler-Zavala was once described as a man who writes his lyrics by turning a dictionary upside down and using whatever words fall out, and at moments on Octahedron, his lyrics are as incomprehensible as ever. Although his lyrics at times may make little sense (see Halo of Nembutals, which features words such as "carcinogen" and "asp"), "Octahedron" features some of Cedric's best vocal work with the band. The album explores quite a few vocal styles, from the sweetly sung "Since We've Been Wrong" to the eery, Pink Floyd-esque "With Twilight As My Guide". Another hightlight of the album would be "Teflon", a mid-tempo rocker which is easily among the band's catchiest songs. When Cedric sings "let the wheels burn, let the wheels burn, stack the tires to the neck, with the body inside", it may be the most grooving Mars Volta we've seen in a while.
What the Mars Volta have done with this album, is create something where, though still just as cryptic, the lyrics fit the songs perfectly. A simply stellar performance by Cedric on this album. // 9
Overall Impression: While some people will always find The Mars Volta to be just plain noise, one thing you cannot deny is the amazing musicianship found on each and every one of their albums. From the amazing presence and range of Cedric Baxler-Zavala to the phenominal drumwork of Thomas Pridgen, The Mars Volta are still at the top of their game, musically speaking.
"Octahedron" may turn some fans of the band away, with roughly half the album being composed of softer, more acoustic songs, but it most certainly will remind the fans, dissappointed by "Amputechture" and "Bedlam", just what this amazing group is capable of doing. It may not exactly be the "acoustic album" it claims to be(you need only listen to "Cotopaxi" to see that the band will always have that insanity in them), this album is certainly their softest, and just like every Mars Volta album to date, it does take a few listens to fully appreciate. It may not compare to De-loused or Frances, but the Mars Volta are a progressive band, constantly changing their style, and therefore it is impossible to rightfully compare their newer albums to their early work. Fans who are still stuck in 2003 need to realize that it is now 6 years later and that they should move on, exactly as the band has. This album may not be their finest, but it is certainly a great album, and is exactly what the Mars Volta needed to do after the sheer insanity of "The Bedlam In Goliath". Perhaps the band needs the listener, and themselves, to relax before they unleash whatever insanity comes with their next album.
I guess we will all just have to wait and see. // 8
pultheplug, on december 24, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: In August of 2009, The Mars Volta released its fifth full-length studio album, entitled Octahedron. The record is a strong departure from the previous four albums: each previous release consisted of an underlying story or concept, and had a focus on the progressive or indulgent (depending on your view) side of their music. While Octahedron has not removed the psychedelic sections from the equation, it has used them more sparsely while simultaneously pushing them into the background, a quality that makes the band more appealing to those who enjoy unconstrained musicianship without additional minutes of dense, chaotic instrumentals.
The opening track and first single from the album, Since We've Been Wrong, should ease the worry of fans who fear the band becoming mainstream, since the beat of the song does not kick in until five minutes into the seven minute track, a run time which does not conform to pop song time restrictions. The band creates a mystical sound with its single acoustic guitar and overdriven electric guitar undertones. The lyrics are entirely abstract, as one has come to expect from the band: the emphasis is the sound and high registers hit by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, not so much what he is saying but how he is saying it. The verse builds up to the chorus, where Zavala's vocals are multi-tracked to provide a thick texture and a soaring quality, highlighted by single guitar notes that accompany but never overpower the vocals. Here the band showcases a soft/loud shift from the verse to the chorus, a formula used consistently throughout the album. The song culminates in the arrival of the drums, keys and strings at the five-minute mark, morphing the folk-mysticism into hard rock territory similar to the progression of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.
The next track, Teflon continues the progression into rock territory. The drums begin thick, heavy and straightforward, giving guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez the freedom to provide fills of lengthened wails, a kin to Eddie Hazel or Prince, that bridge the gap between Zavala's lyrics. The vocals start clean but effects are soon added and it becomes multi tracked, Zavala's vocals interlaced with distortion building up to the point of indistinguishable fuzz. The song culminates with intense and tight drum rolls from Thomas Pridgen, who shines on this track, and on this album as a whole, because he is no longer bogged down in the mix of dense instrumentals. Not just holding the instrumentation together, he has been brought into the foreground for good reason, being a world-class drummer who has no problem leading the transitions of simple beats and melodies into complex Rush inspired time signatures.
The Third track, Halo of Nembutals, slows the pace back down again, as the intro- complete with tremolo tinged guitar and clock ticking- leads into unsettling lyrics by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The band keeps with it's softer sound of Since We've Been Wrong but this time it falls flat, albeit for the vocal performance of Zavala, who hits notes he has never previously attempted without multiple effects and manipulation. Previous albums such as Amputechture and The Bedlam in Goliath had Zavala's true voice buried under static effects and impossibly high shrieks, which were often more painful than they were enjoyable. Zavala still uses multiple tracks of vocals, but gone are the crazy effects. Now the multi tracked vocals are all his own, and this is a welcomed change. It even evokes the question of why such a gifted singer would desire extensive vocal manipulation in the first place.
With Twilight As My Guide follows the same pattern as the previous track, the only change coming in the form of additional background ambience. Pulsating synthesizer, and sweeping electric guitar fills are once again pushed into the background, while the lack of drums causes a need for a close miked acoustic guitar to not only hold the instrumentation together, but add an uneasy texture with the finger slides coming through clear and haunting.
The fifth track, Cotopaxi, begins with a complex guitar/drum intro, similar to Progressive-rock heavyweights of the seventies, King Crimson. This is the only track that truly fits the pop song time requirement, being three and a half minutes in length; however, its shorter length does not make it any less intricate and technical. The track also features clear use of a Wah pedal by Rodriguez-Lopez in the chorus, adding a flare of virtuosity, akin to Jimi Hendrix, which contrasts the deeper snarling vocals of Zavala. Furthermore, the track offers perhaps the best use of ambience from the background instrumentation. The siren like synthesizer in the opening moves from subtle to booming, which adds a thickness and compliments the heavy rock sound of the track.
Desperate Graves follows Cotopaxi, and although it is not a particularly bad track it does not offer enough to stand apart from the other softer songs on the album, and for this reason not even the tremolo soaked guitar or competent bass and drum interplay are enough to raise it from mediocrity.
The second last track of the album, Copernicus, finds Zavala more effectively touching base with the singer/songwriter tradition of story telling. This is done with far greater results than earlier on the album. His double tracked vocals are less abstract, although not perfectly clear, allow the listener to take their own meaning from what seems to be the desperate pleas of a kidnapper. The unsettling lyrical content, with phrases like: close the door/ if you want to see her breathing again, is complimented with just clean electric guitar and light keys, creating an open, haunting texture of loneliness and vulnerability: feelings the victim of a kidnapping would no doubt possess. A drum machine kicks in to finish the track, which seems an odd choice for a band with a celebrated drummer. However, this matches the lyrical content by adding an inhuman quality to the song, as the cold, mechanical beat parallels the unfeeling nature of the kidnapper. // 9
Lyrics: The album climaxes with the final track Luciforms. A spacey intro leads into a prominent bass line, the first time the bass guitar has been pushed into the forefront. The verse contains the layered vocals of Zavala with the highly effected guitar fills of Rodriguez-Lopez, however this time the chorus features clean vocals laced with slightly distorted guitar. The band treads similar territory as the song culminates, Zavala questioning what the listener has become while ghostly keys and Wah effected guitar add an unsettling feeling to his nonsensical ramblings. With threatening lyrics like: Does you temperature ache/is your glass about to break? once again it is not so much what he is saying, (which could be anything), but how well he says it. The end of the song again pushes the boundaries of hard rock, as sporadic keys invade and cause a sense of unease. Unfortunately, the keyboard playing is too often used only for nonsensical musical wanderings: it would undoubtedly add some variety to the songs should the band replace the abundant acoustic guitar melodies with a keyboard or synthesizer riff. // 8
Overall Impression: A solid, yet highly unorthodox fifth album from the Mars Volta, the question now becomes how their cult following will handle the new musical direction that has emerged on Octahedron. Although most songs do not fit the three to four minute formula to constitute a pop song, with no tracks past the ten-minute mark for the first time, the group has unabashedly scaled back its psychedelic tendencies, and this entails a fear of what is to come. However, for the large number of potential fans who could not stomach the heavy, static laced effects of guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, or the highly effected shrieks of vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala on previous efforts, this could be the record to win them over. An all killer no filler approach may worry some who fear the band becoming too accessible to the masses, but the group has not lost its ability to break loose and wander brief musical tangents. Whereas these sections have previously been the focus for the band, this time around the melody has been brought into the spotlight. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala has always threatened to make a pop album, but with such odd and abstract lyricism, and progressive technical musicianship, one should not fear mainstream success for the band at this point in their career. // 10