Review: The Mars Volta, Octahedron

Posted: June 25, 2009 in Album Reviews

Octahedron album cover

Octahedron album cover

Yes, it’s a strange title, but it’s the Mars Volta we’re talking about here. They’re not a band that does anything the conventional way. For the uninitiated, The Mars Volta are pretty tough to characterize. They’re a hard rock band, yes, but there’s so much more to these guys. You could also call them a prog rock band for their far-out experiments. Sometimes they break out into jazzy improvisation, and they’re not afraid to stretch a song farther than it should be stretched.
It’s not unusual to see a Mars Volta tune clock in at 15-plus minutes.
Which makes their latest release all the more surprising. While they haven’t condensed their sound into three-minute singles, there isn’t a song that clocks in at over 8:21 (hey, that’s a short tune in the Mars Volta world).
This album contains eight tracks, and the sound is a bit muted compared to earlier works like Frances the Mute and Amputechture.
There’s even an ballad, the album’s first single and leadoff trackSince We’ve Been Wrong.
Many of the tracks have slow atmospheric buildups, which again isn’t uncommon for the Mars Volta. But they get to the meat of the songs quicker than they used to, which to me is a welcome change. Singer Cedric Bixler Zavaia is an outstanding vocalist, and there are some beautiful harmonies included here, especially on the track Copernicus.
Although there aren’t as many tunes that flat-out rock as on albums past, the 1-2 punch of Cotopaxi and Desperate Graves proves the band can still kick some major ass.
Zavaia and guitarist/producer Omar Rodriguez Lopez have crafted eight more thought-provoking, mind-bending tracks. And perennial guest star John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers shreds on the guitar as always.
**** (of 5)

Ratings system:
***** Hall of Fame album
**** Perennial All-Star
*** Solid starter
** Bench warmer
* Rafael Belliard and Steve Jeltz

Other albums I’ve purchased in recent months and their respective ratings:
Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King ****
Eminem – Relapse ****
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown ****
Prince – Lotusflower ***
Prince – MPLSound ***
thenewno2 – thenewno2 *** 1/2
U2 – No Line on the Horizon *** 1/2
Chris Cornell – Scream ***
311- Uplifter ***
Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream *** 1/2
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life *** 1/2
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III ** 1/2
T.I. – Paper Trail *** 1/2
Guns N Roses – Chinese Democracy ****1/2

  1. ep says:

    A member of the Mars Volta uninitiated, I have to say you had me at:
    “A hard rock band, yes, but there’s so much more to these guys. You could also call them a prog rock band for their far-out experiments.”

    Will have to check them out.

    Also, your lack of Hall of Fame albums is disturbing. We all know that the Beatles re-release will get 5-of-5 here. You don’t have to hold that award only for Beatles rererereleases.

    We also know it will deserve a 5-of-5.

    An idea for a future music musing, maybe post-Beatles 5-of-5:
    Tell us about one (or a couple; even better, an ongoing weekly series) of previous 5-of-5 albums.

    • Andrew Sodergren says:

      Ep my friend,
      You bring up a good point about the 5-star ratings. I guess I don’t want to cheapen the Hall of Fame rating by giving it out all the time (much like Rolling Stone has in recent years). I think the 5-star rating should really be reserved for something that totally blows the mind, where every single track is an instant classic. It’s tough to achieve. But I also think your idea of posting reviews on previous 5-star albums in my collection is a good one. I will see what I can do in the coming weeks.

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