THE MARS VOLTA – Octahedron

THE MARS VOLTA - Octahedron
  • 9/10
    THE MARS VOLTA - Octahedron - 9/10


Mercury Records
Release date: June 22, 2009

User Review
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There was a time when the term “Prog Rock” was seen as something of a dirty word in the music business conjuring images of flowing white cloaks, banks of parping keyboards and songs that seemed to ramble on for days. The onslaught of Punk in the mid 70s led by the snarling Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols seemed to banish Prog to the back pages of music history.

However, all was not what it seemed. The originators of Prog continued on a more discrete level playing to hordes of devotees who demanded a higher class of musicianship than could be found in the mainstream, and yet Prog was still viewed with distaste by the masses eager to keep up with the latest trends.

Things started changing gradually with the likes of Dream Theater bearing the torch of 70s Prog and kicking it into the next generation and beyond with a big dose of riffs and Metal attitude.

As the new generation warmed to the genre more bands began to pop up of varying quality to a whole new audience hungry for music with more depth and character than that pervading the airwaves. With the increased interest in Prog, bands such as Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Pain of Salvation grew in popularity and among the leading proponents of the modern Prog bands is one Mars Volta.

Formed in 2001 from the remnants of garage Punks, At The Drive In, by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, The Mars Volta quickly established themselves as serious contenders with their Punk/Jazz/ Latin influenced brand of Rock.

Octahedron, their 5th album and follow up to The Bedlam in Goliath which featured the Grammy award winning “Wax Simulacra”, finds The Mars Volta at their most accessible and reflective.

“Since We’ve Been Wrong” starts ever so delicately, to the extent that the first minute and a half drift past dreamily before a beautiful finger picked acoustic guitar underpins a sweet, haunting melody from Zavala.

What a way to open the album, “Since We’ve Been Wrong” is a track of absolute beauty with a delicate shimmering melody and haunting harmonies creating a stunning soundscape.

“Teflon” with its off-beat rhythm ups the tempo without dropping the melody quota. At times Zavala sounds like a cross between Geddy Lee and Robert Plant but without the more abrasive side of their voices.

“With Twilight As My Guide” is one of many highlights on Octahedron and again features some fine acoustic work from Lopez with some wonderful soaring guitar lines swooping and diving throughout the song a’la Steve Howe at his most inventive. The ethereal layers of keyboards caress and sooth to create an absolutely stunning piece topped off by Zavala’s finest, most introspective vocal to date. The mid section interplay between the vocals, guitar and keyboards heads into goosebump raising territory of the highest order. Take the best bits from King Crimson’s “Epitaph” and “Soon” by Yes and you’ll get the picture. Who says Prog has to be bland and soulless? One listen to a song such as this will dispel such thoughts right away. Simply awesome.

“Desperate Graves” is another such example of Zavala’s superb grasp of melody and expressive delivery. In his hands a voice really is a potent instrument

At the heavier end of the scale is “Cotopaxi” with its thunderous chaotic riff and barrage of drums evoking memories of the closing refrain of Rush’s “Cygnus X-1”. While album closer “Luciform” finds Lopez at his most devastating as he delivers a screaming solo that is packed with passion and fire.

This is its Progressive Rock in its truest form. Inventive, articulate, emotive and atmospheric and boundary stretching and is also Mars Volta’s most accessible offering to date. Each subsequent play reveals more and more delights and whether it’s Zaval’s excellent vocal melodies or Lopez’s unique guitar style there is plenty here to appeal to fans of quality music.

Octahedron may well be one of the finest Prog albums of the decade, yes it really is THAT good and is best listened to in a darkened room through headphones to get the fullest Mars Volta effect. Absolutely unmissable.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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