The mastermind behind independent Canadian prog-metal band Intervals talks tone on the road, the importance of good merch, and how to thrive as an unsigned act.

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While "Noctourniquet" isn’t your dad’s prog rock, it does provide some Pink Floyd-inspired journeys in its mellower songs.

The Mars Volta
Warner Bros. Records

The Mars Volta guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, has been so busy this year that you couldn’t be faulted for wondering if he believes in the Mayan prognostication about the world ending this December: So far he’s toured as bassist with Le Butcherettes, taken his band the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group to Panama, reunited At the Drive-In, premiered his film Los Chidos at SXSW, and released the Mars Volta’s sixth record, Noctourniquet—all before May. Either way, the latter serves up enough pop-prog experimentalism to be the perfect 12/12/12 death march or a sneering, post-punk middle-finger salute to doomsday.

“The Whip Hand” terrorizes eardrums with buzz-saw guitar runs during its chorus, while its verses are more soothing, thanks to Rodriguez-Lopez’s reverse-delay riffs. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala agilely carries “Aegis,” while Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez’s trippy keyboards and Omar’s ethereal chords crisscross each other and build to an explosive chorus of instrumental mayhem and vocal pyrotechnics. “The Malkin Jewel” features Bixler-Zavala doing a ghostly Jack White-style vocal in the verse before unleashing his signature howl over Rodriguez-Lopez’s reggae-ish riffs and bassist Juan Alderete’s growling string slides.

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Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes—Animals as Leaders’ jaw-dropping dualguitar team—live up to their name and create a new progressive-rock beast by cross-breeding jazz, classical, and metal techniques in a way that simultaneously blows your mind and defies the genre’s stereotypes.

“It’s a few genres combined into one. It’s like progressive metal, progressive jazz … space metal,” says Tosin Abasi, founder of Animals as Leaders, when pressed to pigeonhole his band into a category. And he’s right—in the course of a single AAL song, your ears might be assaulted by math-metal djent-isms with bittersweet Lydian sonorities, tapped open-voice triads, contrapuntal textures, 8-string slapping and popping that sounds like a cross between Victor Wooten and Eddie Van Halen’s “Mean Street,” and lo-fi electronica-influenced tones.

On the surface, this description of AAL’s musical mélange might reek of the sort of music-school pretension you expect from guys who wear Jaco Pastorious T-shirts and throw in every new device they learn in theory class to create a hodgepodge of faux eclecticism. But Animals as Leaders weaves every twist and turn so organically that it never sounds forced and, after a couple of listens, almost doesn’t make sense any other way.

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