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The Mars Volta - Octahedron

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Rating: * * * *

It's not the Mars Volta unplugged, nor is it acoustic. Octahedron is stripped back and without the spazz, freak-out factor of the crazed Texas band's four previous records. It's also restrained in length, too, with none of the eight songs longer than nine minutes which makes a change from the usual 10 or 15 minute-plus, multi-part epics of the past.

The Mars Volta have always done beautiful and gentle well, it's just that the beauty inevitably gives way to berserk improv-jazz-metal wig-outs, and that's what makes the band so electrifying. On Octahedron it's the beautiful moments that come to the fore, like the plucked acoustic guitar, spooky electronic manipulations and vocal serenade of With Twilight As My Guide, and opening track Since We've Been Wrong has a soothing Stairway To Heaven refrain to it.

But it's not all sublime and pleasing. The thumping bass and spiralling down-tuned riffs of Cotopaxi is a return to squalling funk metal like something from 2005 classic Frances the Mute; and the shuddering distortion of Teflon's mangled lope is anything but easy listening, especially with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala coming up with one of his best mantras yet: "Let the wheels burn, stack the tires to the neck, with the body inside".

Because of its more mellow and beauteous approach, it's the band's most accessible album yet. But that's not much good for non-believers because Octahedron is not the ideal starting point for the Mars Volta - it just wouldn't make sense.

However, it's a must for fans and other daring souls.

Scott Kara


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