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The Mars Volta
s/t Rachel Roberts , September 14th, 2022 08:31

The duo make an audacious return following a decade long hiatus with a record that will make you think a thousand things at once

A decade worth of waiting sits on the shoulders of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López. The pair’s seventh (self-titled) record shows their signature complex soundscapes now suited and booted in a even more sophisticated get-up. The Mars Volta is a continuation of the emotional upheaval and hurtling expressivity that has always been a part of the group.

There’s plenty of psychedelia and guitar licks coated in wailing tones. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Rodríguez-López had bored a hole straight through his pedal board during the recording process, given the many shades of wah-ing effects on display here. But it also offers complicated layered tracks like ‘Blank Condolences’ which overlap contrapuntal melodies, and even the short and bursting ‘Qué Dios Te Maldiga Mí Corazón’ which brings Hispanic drum patterns in a rocked-up form of tango. ‘Cerulea’ feels proudly sad and accepting. “At last I’ve found my moment to fall apart”, sings Bixler-Zavala as a searing guitar soars over him in a pivotally open moment for the band.

The Mars Volta strays away from the model of long and climbing tracks we were met with on 2012’s Noctourniquet, yet it somehow manages to not fall short of their esteemed colourful chaos. In opener ‘Blacklight Shine’, we’re welcomed in by hip-snaking percussion and guitar seasoned with 60s flair before it weaves into ‘Graveyard Love’. This second track is fuelled by pulsing bass and slow, swelling rhythms with military-style snare drumming. It teases the darker, inner corners of this new take from the duo. Remaining purposefully patchy in an album where no song steps over four minutes and thirteen seconds long, the record’s just as diligently crafted as its predecessors, but knows, in its maturity, that it needn’t draw things out.

There’s a lot to unpick here. The Mars Volta may well be one to grow on you. This is a record that can make you think a thousand things at once. But if you’re willing to sit and savour the taste before digesting, you’ll understand why it took so long to ferment.