The Mars Volta’s eponymous 7th album – their first in a decade – exists as a product of a genuine love and togetherness between a group of people who want to make music, but more importantly tell a deeply personal story. A fresh start and a clean slate, it’s the next episode for one of the most exciting and unique projects of the last 25 years.
Stream: ‘The Mars Volta’ – The Mars Volta
In one of the most unlikely reformations of recent times, The Mars Volta have released their first new album since 2012. Lead duo Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López have exercised their right to tabula rasa, commanding a rejigged line-up on the band’s 7th album. It’s a self-titled effort, with shorter songs, orthodox structures and wide-awake lyrics, dealing with real-life trauma experienced by Cedric and his family over the course of the past few years.
Released September 16, 2022 via Clouds Hill, The Mars Volta was announced with understated fanfare earlier this year. Lead single “Blacklight Shine” was released with virtually no warning to a surprised and delighted fanbase. It’s a warm, vibrant song with a big latin jazz streak running through it. The deft percussion and tropical psychedelia of the guitarwork gives Cedric’s voice acres of space to roam. His melodies swoop and dive like swallows in the sunset, rewarding listeners instantly with soothing warmth. This gentle sound is a world away from the multi-suite progressive freak-outs the band is known for.
If I didn’t know any better,
I could have sworn you said
“There will come a day for his reckoning”
It’s the want of the weight when it crushed
All the centrifugal ways our lives fall in and out of place
– “Vigil,” The Mars Volta
We’ve been here before. The Mars Volta had tried releasing a “pop” record in 2009 with Octahedron, a pleasant collection of ballads and conventional rock numbers. Lyrically, Cedric’s focus changed dramatically for this album. To go from “Primordial cymatics giving birth into reverse” to “Do you remember how you wore that dress” in 18 months is quite a shift, and the album got a mixed reception from the fanbase.
This confusion was further compounded by the release of Cryptomnesia a month beforehand – a wacked-out thrash metal/jazz crossover with offensive song titles and relentless double-kick drums throughout. Labeled a Rodriguez-Lopez solo effort but with several key Volta members on it, this was much more along the lines of evolution plotted by previous releases. It appeared that Cedric and Omar had a split personality during this era, with no direction in mind for their sound.
And in that housе, you know I lost myself every timе
Frozen in fetal positions in the wake of every touch
And I’m waiting, so my question is
How many more are sequestered?
– “Blank Condolences,” The Mars Volta
This time it’s a different story. Ten years on hiatus has allowed the band to refresh itself truly for the first time. The sound is markedly different from the heyday of the mid-00s, but the band are invigorated, with ideas bursting out of the seams of each piece on The Mars Volta. Cedric’s soulful turn on “Graveyard Love” is instantly striking. His vocals are backed by stuttered synth bass and vocal sampling that verges on becoming a commercial hip hop beat at times.
The pop-rock bop of “No Case Gain” is one of the most accessible pieces the band have ever produced. “Vigil”’s sentimental tone, major chords and glossy guitar licks hide a shocking story of having your life being threatened for speaking the truth. “Que Dios Te Maldiga De Corazon” is pure Latin indulgence – a song less than two minutes long, but with a rich landscape. This is different to what has come before from The Mars Volta, and simply was not possible on previous albums.
If the catatonic walls close in on the hem again
Pull the tether down for me
I’ve been hemorrhaging thе sins of these lessеr men
In cracks I didn’t make
– “Tourmaline,” The Mars Volta
A quick read into Cedric’s recent history will tell you all you need to know about the content of this record. His sobriety came with an unfortunate price, as he found his family being embroiled in the wake of him speaking out about Scientology upon completing their rehab program. The seething anger barely hidden in his lyrics, the conspiratorial language, this is his way of showing his still-raw wounds from an incredibly difficult time for his family.
Knowing this makes some of the imagery ever more stark – “If I were you, I wouldn’t answer the door/It’s 2AM, I’m looking down the street,” “’Don’t let your tongue slit your throat’ That’s what they always said,” “You can try and blind them all, you can claim your God as fault/But I’ll make him shatter when I’ll take an eye for an eye” These lines are just a few examples of the snippets peppered across the album that reveal a picture of harassment and abuse.
Rеseeding the desert, the high control hex
He obsessively pets with his thumbs
Thinking no one’s watching, but I got the copy that he can never erase
He’s fit for a crypt, a place for the errors in judgment that he can afford
And I am that moment that you never saw coming
– “Blacklight Shine,” The Mars Volta
These bleak passages are balanced out with messages of love and hope, mainly directed at Cedric’s wife, Chrissy. The rage he expresses at those hounding him and his family dissipates instantly when addressing her, his words promising that they will weather this maelstrom together and get out the other side to tell their story. The way Cedric mixes these two opposed moods to get something so measured and authentic shows he still has the songwriting talent which has given his work such a desirable flavour over the years.
I told myself constantly during the past decade that if the Volta re-united then I was uninterested. That it would be an automatic no-sale. There had been, in my view, too much water under the bridge in terms of stylistic changes and members leaving for it to truly be called The Mars Volta. But something about this new album feels like home. Its familiarity comes from a place of honesty, from a desire to not just turn the page, but write a whole new chapter. With this release, they have achieved that. But if you’re going to compare The Mars Volta with Amputechture or Frances The Mute, you’ll find yourself disappointed. You’d also be missing the point.
The Mars Volta works because it’s uncomplicated. It’s not arrogant or dismissive; it doesn’t attempt to elevate itself above anything.
It just exists as a product of a genuine love and togetherness between a group of people who want to make music, but more importantly tell a deeply personal story. Breathing life into a band that seemed dead in the water all of six months ago in such a way is the key strength of this album. This is not an attempt to better previous endeavours, or forget them. It is merely the next episode for one of the most exciting and unique projects of the last 25 years.
Stream: ‘The Mars Volta’ – The Mars Volta
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