When Omar and Cedric 'broke up' At the Drive in, one of the most under rated bands of the past generation, many including me couldn't fathom it ... They had just delivered the seminal "Relationship of Command' and clearly had more in their locker ... Why?
We then established that the follow up project, The Mars Volta, would be more experiential, more complex, more rewarding ... Some hope, most (read ‘me') thought ...
Then the debut "De-Loused in the Comatorium" landed in 2003, it was complex, it was challenging, it was a bit mental to be honest! But, and most importantly, it was clearly borne of shear genius and the realisation of the limitations of the ATDI 'sound' became clear ... This was special (a tad prog, but special none the less).
The follow up, 2005’s "Frances the Mute" took 'mental' to a new level but confirmed the genius of the 'project'. Subsequent releases lost the element of shock and awe but largely retained their quality and on 2009’s "Octahedron", things were starting to sound "normal" with the band becoming accessible to the average Joe. The fear was that edge had gone and the announcement earlier this year that ATDI were to reform for some gigs hinted at an abandonment of the avant-garde progressive mission.
Then we quickly hear that The Mars Volta were to release "Noctourniqet" before ATDI were planning to play Coachella just to confuse us all that little bit more ... And here it is, but what do we have? Complex prog or accessible normality?
Answer is that it's largely the latter but with a caveat, that being that I would contend that most first time listeners to the band would still consider this collection downright weird!
The reality is that we have a loosely themed collection of great tracks that hang together superbly to deliver a work of some genius that will likely not be fully recognised due to the aforementioned "mentalness" of it's predecessors.
Take the first half trio of tracks "Dyslexicon", "Empty Vessels ..." and the Jack White sounding "The Malkin Jewel" ... These would not sit well on "Comatorium" or ""France's" but match anything on them from a quality perspective IMHO.
This is, to any standard, a stunning album ... I completely appreciate that a certain wing of the Volta fan base will disagree and I understand why, but any fan who thinks the band lost their way on recent offerings should revisit the genius, it has restructured, but it's still genius.
Anyone who has let The Mars Volta pass them by up to now should give this some serious ear time ...
... And if At The Drive In play anywhere near you this year, think yourself lucky, go see them and then feel free to challenge my contention that "Relationship of Command" should have been bigger than "Nevermind" as it was clearly the better record.
9.5 / 10