The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet


Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
That was the end,
Of Solomon Grundy.

Originally collected by Shakespearian scholar James Orchard Halliwell in 1842, the woeful tale of Solomon Grundy in this traditional English nursery rhyme has made its presence felt in popular culture since its discovery over 170 years ago. It is perhaps most famously known within the context of the supervillian of the same name, devised by DC Comics in 1944 as an archenemy of the Green Lantern.

It is totally understandable how a number of music critics assigned to cover the new Mars Volta album, Noctourniquet, automatically thought of the zombie terrorist and charter member of the Legion of Doom when they saw in the press materials how the group’s sixth LP was inspired in part by the late Mr. Grundy (namely Rolling Stone). But they are all dead wrong, for it was the old schoolhouse adage that frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala had in mind while penning the music for this outstanding thirteen song cycle along with the tale of Hyacinthus, the divine hero from Greek mythology who served as the lover of the archery god Apollo before he was killed in a fit of jealousy by Zephyrus, the God of Wind. Sounds like the making of some seriously geeky fodder for the kind of overblown neo-prog we’ve all come to expect from the Volta since emerging from the rib of the recently reunited post-hardcore legends At The Drive-In, doesn’t it? 

But lo, the most evident inspiration cited in the crafting of Noctourniquet is the music of The Godfathers, the disgustingly underappreciated UK modern rock masters whose razor sharp guitar melodies and vintage punk aggression sliced through England’s baggy movement in the late 80s like a rusty bow saw. And you can most definitely hear shades of that band’s 1988 masterpiece Birth, School, Work, Death as well as elements of Mind Bomb-era The The in songs like "Dyslexicon" and "Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound", buoyed by the stellar interplay between the lean, mean current lineup of the band rounded out by guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, bassist Juan Alderete and ace drummer Deantoni Parks of KUDU fame, who makes his official debut as a full-fledged studio member of Mars Volta here. Bixler even channels his inner-Eggman on the Lennon-esque chorus to lead single "The Malkan Jewel" when he sings “All the traps in the cellar go clickety-clack / ‘Cause you know I always set them for you / And all the rats in the cellar form a vermin of steps / Yeah, you know they’re gonna take me to you.”

Noctourniquet is undoubtedly the most accessible Mars Volta album yet, one that replaces the overreaching bloat of their last two or three titles with the most DIY display of prog-rock dazzle since Adrian Belew toured with Talking Heads. If The Bedlam in Goliath was their Tormato, then consider this excellent outing to be their 90125. And I mean that in the best possible way.

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