At one point, the music of The Mars Volta stopped being surprising and started being a problem, even a bit of a headache, both for the band and their fans. “Amputechture” and “The Beldam In Goliath” raised doubts about the viability of a sound that had been drawing too much on crazy experimentation, on the progressive carpe diem, and they forced the band to rethink some aspects of their own dynamics. The result of that was “Octahedron”, their previous album, the first on which they explicitly made more room for the synthesisers and tried to lighten up the sound with a more melodic and less dense approach. They continue in this vein on “Noctourniquet”, which, in a way, is an improved and updated sequel to its predecessor.
For starters, the average track duration of four minutes indicates on what grounds the band is moving around on this record. Turning away from the hodgepodge and all too intricate constructions, they focus on finding melodic escape routes and shortcuts that make the exposition and digestion of their music easier. “Imago” and “Vedamaldy” are clear and attainable compositions - almost conventional, in this context - and they do a good job of blowing some fresh air into the overall sound. The use of the synthesiser and other electronic equipment makes this transition to a more orthodox position a lot easier, giving the project new ideas on the way.
Even on the furious “Aegis” and “Dyslexicon” - almost more reminiscent of At The Drive-In than of The Mars Volta – they don't lose their heads, nor do they let themselves be taken adrift by their own megalomaniac aspirations. Instead, they concentrate on transmitting energy, consistency and intensity, without having to use the same old progressive rock tricks we've heard before. It sounds more natural and direct and that's a good thing. Although some sonic confusion is inevitable (particularly on “In Absentia”) the trying, labyrinthine and leaden attitude that became an obstacle for the band to execute their excellent ideas is now in the background, without being too much of an influence on the final result. It's not their best album, far from it, to be honest. Furthermore, there are still many things that can be argued over regarding The Mars Volta sound (the lyrics, for instance, still terrible; the horrible 70s prog-rock tics; the faux-eccentricity), but “Noctourniquet” has something “Amputechture” and a part of “Octahedron” hadn't: it's listenable and enjoyable.
The Malkin Jewel