Late March was a relatively exciting time for me in terms of new music. I'm going to share a few of my thoughts on new releases from Ministry, Meshuggah, and The Mars Volta.
Noctourniquet may be the most normal album yet from The Mars Volta, and I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing for them. This album sounds like a compromise between Octahedron - TMV's previous album, which the band described as their attempt at an "acoustic pop" album - and their earliest material. The horns that helped give TMV a distinctive sound on Frances The Mute, Amputecture, and The Bedlam in Goliath have been replaced entirely with keyboards, and while the arrangements are often nicely layered the effect isn't quite the same. The drumming on Noctourniquet also fails to match the intensity reached on TMV's earlier material. Some of this may be due to the absence of former TMV drummer Thomas Pridgen, whose previous work with the band was pretty legendary, and some of this may be caused by muffled, echoey mixing - Molochwalker features some prominent drumming, for instance, but the drum hits sound like they're bleeding into each other rather than coming across as distinct, discrete sounds. This style of production helps give the keyboard and guitar parts a rich, full sound, but the drums and vocals lose some intensity as a trade-off.
The tracks are also shorter; only a pair of songs on Noctourniquet break the 6-minute mark, and while there are some nice crescendo moments on the album, these fail to reach the epic scope and intensity of some of TMV's earlier material. The quiet moments aren't as quiet, the crazy moments aren't as crazy, and the album comes across as a little boring as a result. There's less experimentation overall, and much less of Omar Rodríguez-López's trademark noodling.
That said, this isn't a bad album. There are a lot of strong melodies on Noctourniquet, and the shorter songs make those melodies much more accessible for those looking for something quick to entertain them during the daily commute. I'm not sure this album will weather the test of time as well as some of TMV's earlier material has, since the melodies here are much more overt and leave less to be discovered on repeat plays, but it's worth a few spins at least.
I find myself having an opposite reaction to Koloss, the latest offering from Swedish prog-death metal act Meshuggah. The intensity that went into this recording is evident from the start, with a wonderfully heavy and punchy sound that perfectly complements the band's trademark rhythmic experimentation. The mixing is so consistently deep and menacing that it almost works to hide some of the more subtle, interesting moments on the album. At first I thought the album was a bit monotonous in its plodding heaviness, but the more I listen to it the more I get out of it, and the more I enjoy it.
It's almost as if Koloss is a concept album built not around a narrative in the traditional sense, but instead on the idea of a consistent sonic experience: a constant, unstoppable heaviness; an impending doom that's felt through the music itself rather than through any sort of lyrical story. The slower tempo of many tracks on the album evokes the feel of 2002's Nothing, but the sharp production, interesting harmonies, and complex arrangements on Koloss reflect a lot of growth for the band over the past 10 years. Fans of Meshuggah's faster material also have a lot to enjoy on Koloss, as there are a number of tracks - such as the relentless The Demon's Name Is Surveillance and the frenetic Swarm - which highlight the band's aptitude for technical, precise musicianship at break-neck speeds.
Finally, Al Jourgensen's back with another album from Ministry, despite suggesting that he was calling it quits after 2007's The Last Sucker and the ensuing C-U-LaTour in 2008. Relapse is mostly more of the same as what the band offered with The Last Sucker. The political themes of the album have changed to reflect the struggles of the US economy over the past 5 years, with a nod to the "99 percent" movement, but the sound is largely the same. Relapse has a number of energetic, catchy moments, but there's nothing that really stands out to me, and as a whole the album seems a bit less polished than The Last Sucker or Rio Grande Blood.