“Octahedron” – ‘The Mars Volta’ [Joint Review]
I told you we had some aces up our sleeve: we’ve both been – I think – a little eager to get this album down-pat. Not necessarily because ‘The Mars Volta’ is generally a top-notch band, and their music is usually of an exceptionally high-quality calibre, but because the album itself is a massive ‘shift’ from the usual ‘Volta’ we’re all used to. Now, to be totally honest with everybody, I’ll set the records straight: I’ve put ‘indicators’, like ‘usually’ and ‘generally’ in those sentences previous, to hint slightly at the fact that this is probably the first ‘Volta’ album I’ve been able to really get into. Suffice to say, their ‘experimental’ stuff was like listening to a cat-on-a-rack, with some electricity and a bottle of bourbon.
I do enjoy some difference from a band, I do enjoy a little experimentation here and there, now that I come to think about it, maybe there is a line to draw in the sand. But ‘Volta’ overstepped a boundary I think very few bands have gone over, and what’s more surprising, they’ve managed to pull themselves out of it willingly in “Octahedron“, and still managed to be loved by millions if not more. Some of their previous stuff, “Holy Zombie-Jesus” guys, I think that just about sums it up there…Overall, I think ‘Volta’ diehards were a little miffed, and a little disappointed. I know for a fact that Michael Hodder thought it was missing something – if my memory serves [it wasn't heavy enough?] - perhaps for the first time, it had lost that experimental-spark they’ve had for albums past. It’s that same spark that’s kept ‘Volta’ at arm’s length, for me. It’s hard to get attached to their music and fully appreciate it, and if nobody had told me that “Octahedron” was their latest feature, I probably would never have noticed…
This would have to be the first real progressive rock band that can define this specific genre. It’s gone beyond the simple elements of rock, ditched alternative a little way back I think, and went straight to the experimentation.
“… So, this is what is meant by progressive rock,” The Enantiomorphic God scratches his temple, confusedly.
I mean, so many bands can be pigeon-holed into so many genres and sub-genres, to such an extent, where if they utilise one sound, or even hint at another genre, they’re immediately a part of it. It’s one downfall for www.last.fm, their genre’s are a little vague, so I usually have to make up my own mind on which way the wind’s blowing, if any. “Octahedron” has the progressive rock elements, perhaps, dumbed-down a little – sure, if progressive rock is what I’m thinking it is: rock with some zest of lemon and experimentation. If you’re expecting ‘Volta’ to come blazing onto the scene with this whacked-out guitar-solo, with some bizarre instrumentation, I’m sad to say, you’ll be disappointed on occasions.
… But other than that?
WHAT A BLAST OF AN ALBUM!
I’ve been playing it non-stop for over a week. When I get a spare moment, I bang on “Octahedron”and immerse myself in elec. guitar. It’s so unique, I haven’t heard an album quite like it for some while. However…
… Back in the days of The Enantiomorphic God, when the sultry listenings off Limewire were all that sufficed a sad and lonely individual, he came across, one day, a band named ‘Sonata Arctica’ – I believe that’s the correct spelling. It might be worth your research, but the sounds I’m hearing off “Octahedron” have reminiscent-values with some of the stuff ‘Sonata Arctica’ have had all along, minus the speed. And I’m not trying to be negative, it’s just whenever I listen to “Octahedron”, ‘Sonata Arctica’ pops into my head with “Wolf & The Raven”. The vocals are similar, and songs from either have uncanny likeness to each other at times. So, if you’re unsure of “Octahedron”, and can’t be bothered sampling it elsewhere, and you’ve actually heard of ‘Sonata Arctica’, you’ve got something to go on. Both bands have some solid music, no doubt, I just couldn’t help but joint the dots, peoples…
… Somebody has to…
[The Enantiomorphic God finishes a picture of a bucket and spade, loosely drawn with black pen]
Now that I’ve shoved ‘genre’ out of the way, and I’ve got a comparison for you guys to work on, I’ll move on to the music itself. And, overall, it’s hard to dislike any of the tracks that ‘Volta’ have lined up for you. The album opens with “Since We’ve Been Wrong”, a slow and subtle beginning that takes a few moments to heat up. As the synth slowly builds, growing louder and louder, you have the desire to crank up the sound full-bore until you can actually hear something properly.
It’s that slow and soft beginning that makes a great beginning, it’s like listening to ‘Vangelis’ in ‘Bladerunner’ as “Rick Deckard” drives off into the distance, to “Tyrell Corp”. When the guitar kicks in at the 1:36 minute mark, you’re in ‘Volta’ town. The lyrics: “Do you remember how you wore that dress?” creep in unexpectedly. The delicate nature of this song makes it so desirable, so intimate. Just the synth, building, building, the elec. guitar/s, and a singular voice in the midst of this:
“Since We’ve Been Wrong” – 2:55 mark.
More and more instruments come into that fake-crescendo, and die off just as quickly. Back come the lyrics at the end of the first chorus, back comes the elec. guitar/s, with some added body. And at 5:12, the percussion comes in, with some bass, and it’s finger-licking good. The track tops off at 7:12, and it’s all about building that suspense, keeping you hangin’ in there, waiting, waiting, waiting, BANG! Silence is a powerful ally in an album, especially at the beginning, more-so at the end.
Following this masterpiece, my personal favourite for the entire album, “Teflon”. We’re in heavy-town, there’s no silence here, out comes the beat, the percussion, the symbols, the elec. guitar/s, and the voice. Layers, layers, layers, building, building, building to: “Let the wheels burn, let the wheels burns, stack the tyres to the neck, with the body inside…” [lyrics pending*]. What makes it so interesting is the hinted-instruments in the background, and although I’ve yet to name any of them, it’s worth having a keen ear to pick them out. ‘Volta’ still have their grass-roots, but I think “Octahedron’s” broken the mould a bit in context with previous albums.
I could literally go through each and every song, they’re all so wonderful. But I’ll skip ahead to the middle, “With Twilight As My Guide”. The gentle pick of guitar, the vocals/lyrics here are magnificent. ‘Volta’ sure keep you enthused. It’s what makes a great album, if you’re hooked after the first and second, and still want to hear more, the middle has tracks so well placed. Everything flows, there are contrasts between heavy and soft to “shake-it-up”. I have a feeling that my counterpart might like “Cotopaxi”, it brings back some classic speed and classic power that has been somewhat lacking in the tracks previous, some really heavy layers here, and a great song to include in context with “Octahedron’s” entirety.
I won’t waste any more of your time with the other tracks, although I’d like to: I’ll jump straight to the last track, “Luciforms”, and it’s playing with the same synth that “Since We’ve Been Wrong” had. It’s a slow beginning, it’s again, intimate. It doesn’t build, but instead stays steady. The flicker of ‘Vangelis’ synth wavers unexpectedly, and every second feels like a lifetime of the Earth. Some noise slowly builds in the background, and the lyrics “how much do you make…”come in distorted with the subtle use of percussion. An explosion of sound and heavy come onto the scene at 2:09 with “… seems like I been running from your trenchant memory…” It juxtaposes nicely with the opener, and is a fantastic end to a fantastic album…
But, it’s all in the listening. For some, it might be a ‘listen-before-you-buy’ scenario, although the diehards might forgo this unnecessary action. It’s definitely converted me into a follower, and when the album packs the shelves [if it hasn't already], I’ll be there to buy a copy. It’s a nice addition to your CD collection – if you have any – and you probably won’t regret buying it in the long-run. It has tons of replay value, and it’s going to get a 4.89999999 outta 5. An eight-track album, I can’t find anything wrong with it, but I know I’ve been handing out 5′s a little too easily. For future reference, the next album that manages to get a 5 outta me will have to leave me gnawing at my own arms begging for more…
The Enantiomorphic God