Album review: The Mars Volta - Octahedron

THE MARS VOLTA Octahedron *** Mercury B0024NKK1U

A few disarming moments on Octahedron unfold slowly, with pockets of space and calm. Don't be lured into trusting them. This album, the fifth studio release by the Mars Volta, employs stillness as a set-up for all manner of disruption: sharply pealing riffs, phantasmagorical metaphors, convoluted song structures. In many ways it's a typical effort from the guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and the vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who make up the Mars Volta's core.

But that's not to discredit the more measured side of Octahedron. Presented as an eight-song suite, the album delivers a panoramic range of intensity, sliding along that range in ways both gradual and startling.

Aside from the opener, a remorseful ballad called Since We've Been Wrong, the songs fix their uneasy sentiments to unsettling images, like carcasses or "tables of ringworms". The syntax can suggest an antiquarian contortion: "With qualms that I speak/Of the wrists I have cut," Zavala sings at the start of Desperate Graves.

But the panache of the singing, and the radiant complexity of the music, drive the album forward. And it's the subtle touches, no less than the sweeping ones, that leave an impression.

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