Albums That Shaped Me: The Mars Volta, Octahedron

Ocathedron is the fifth album from The Mars Volta an rock band from Los Angles that defy easy description. They were clearly influenced by Led Zeppelin but this influence was filtered through there own psychotic mix of Latin American music, psychedelia, punk rock, heavy guitar music, Jazz and their own brand of relentless aggression. The product of this chaotic blend of styles resulted in truly unique music that brought a fresh energy to rock.
Octahedron documents the band turning away extended song forms to write shorter pieces that are all part of a greater conceptual unity. The band were blessed with an excellent selection or drummers throughout their career. Octahedron featuring the force that is Thomas Pridgen, his aggressive playing style jelled well with the band’s aesthetic. Although, it must be said that he is not my favourite drummer of the band’s roster.

Octahedron was the first album from The Mars Volta I ever owned what impressed me about this release was the sheer diversity of music presented in the album and how much sonic ground was covered in such short songs. New territory is explored here especially on the haunting track With Twilight as My Guide which exists in a very ethereal place and does not as in previous go to a more conventional high energy space. The song showcases Cedric Bixler Zavala’s incredible vocal range.

What the meaning of this album is meant to be is as with all of the bands’ output hard to decipher. I have heard that the track Teflon is about a group of dropouts and stoners killing the American presidential candidate John McCain in a possible future where he would have become president. Throughout the album there are various references the occult/and or Satanic powers (it should be noted that Zavala has sought to distance himself from such interpretations of the music).

To state the obvious, there are eight songs in total on the album which coincides with the geometrical figure that is named in the title. It is hard to say if this name denotes any further significance. Throughout, the album a synthesized tones makes frequent appearances, functioning as a sonic glue between the individual songs. For a band that is notoriously inaccessible and hard to interpret this album for all its aggression, lyrical density and extreme aesthetic Octahedron can still be said to be the band’s most “commercial” release when compared the rest of their catalogue. This is more telling of the strangeness of The Mars Volta than of the contents of Octahedron.

For surely it is their undeniable strangeness that has given them the success and enduring popularity they have enjoyed. In their music unfiltered aggression meets sophistication and abstraction. An event I was at with one of their members was very well attended, which happened long after the band had disbanded.

When I think of The Mars Volta I feel a mixture of elation and sorrow: elation at the music I am hearing but at the same time sadness that I cannot think of a band that has achieved any level of notoriety in recent years that is a innovative as they were. Perhaps my sorrow is simply due to ignorance. I would prefer this to be true rather than any alternative hypothesis. That good new music is simply being lost in the incomprehensible volume of new releases each year? That originality can no longer prosper in the music “industry”? In the darkness of the unknown false certainty will not help us. To live with ambiguity is sometimes a necessity.