The first time i placed Octahedron into my computer, it was met with a metal-on-metal grinding sound. I barely looked up from my reading. I mean, we are talking about The Mars Volta, anything-goes sonic swashbucklers if ever there were any. Maybe Omar Rodriguez-Lopez had read about some experimental technology somewhere and figured, hey, what better way to take our fifth studio album to the next level than to chew up some disc drives?
Strangely, though, once the grinding stopped and the actual music began, Octahedron revealed itself to be, by Mars Volta standards, shockingly conventional. No horns skronking. No Cedric Bixler-Zavala English/Spanish language toggling. Very little dramatic tempo shifting. And wouldn’t you know it, after last year’s exhaustingly chaotic The Bedlam in Goliath left me wishing for a slimmer, simpler Volta, Octahedron makes me yearn for the messy mayhem of its four predecessors.
The Mars Volta’s new purpose seems to be producing slow, metallic semi-ballads in great abundance: “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” “Halo of Nembutals,” “With Twilight as My Guide,” “Copernicus.” The lyrics are still cryptic as hell (typical example: “They sent in the necrophiliacs/Carcinogen tar turns to smoldering asp/Of this I ate/Communion shaped/Serpent rays in prism tail rainbows escape”), but the music sounds sorta boring, a charge I never, ever expected to level at this band.
Even when Octahedron picks up its pace in places—and honestly, it never really gets moving—the results feel overwhelmingly bland. “Cotopaxi” and “Desperate Graves” sorta sound like mid-’90s Rush outtakes with more extreme vocals, while the eight-minute “Luciforms” dies in the shadow of previous, epic Mars Volta album-cappers. How do I get that grinding sound to start again?