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The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute CD (album) cover


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

4.07 | 1006 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Absolutely no compromise from the best thing to hit progressive music this millennium.

This album is almost impossible to bear. It roars at you with the sound of LED ZEPPELIN at their ball-breaking best, it claws at your emotions with the impassioned plea of a latin JUSTIN HAYWARD, it plays with your mind like some sort of satanic PAUL SIMON, it pounds at you like KING CRIMSON in their most contrary mood, it lulls you with the spaced-out atmospherics of PINK FLOYD, it pulses with a metronomic TANGERINE DREAM beat.

And that's only the first track.

Grandiose, overindulgent, impenetrable - yes, it's all of these things. Mind you, I thought 'Close To The Edge' was all these things in 1973, too. Nowadays there's hardly anyone willing to really express themselves the way musicians did back then. On the evidence of this album, no one can accuse THE MARS VOLTA of holding anything back!

The major talking point among listeners to this album are the ambient sections, slabs of sounds that seem to go nowhere. At first listen they seem like weirdness for its own sake. Why does the bluesy 'The Widow' tail off into three minutes of electronic noodling? I don't have all the answers. All I know is I need the respite when listening to this album. How could anyone stand the megamonster JOHN FRUSCIANTE riff of 'L'Via L'Viaquez' (and the accompanying mellotron!) straight after the energy of 'The Widow', with drumming by JOHN BONHAM reincarnated? Hey, THE MARS VOLTA did it the way they wanted, and I'm so incredibly glad there's a band out there who do it their way - even if it doesn't all make sense to me. Why does 'L'Via fade into distorted vocals and a mechanical squeak? I dunno. Why does the beautiful 'Miranda' begin with four minutes of noise? Pass; next question. Is the track worth persevering with? Oh yes. From the moment FLEA'S trumpet starts up we have the sort of majesty (akin to 'Televators' from their first album) that makes one's hair stand on end. The seven notes of the main theme are spine tingling. That last chorus, with BIXLER-ZAVALA adding emphasis and extending the last line, is a moment to die for. Then it fades away. In the last minute a theme comes in at half volume, seemingly a throwaway moment, of pure GENESIS. Madness. Why?

If there remains any doubt you have a masterpiece in your hands, it is removed by 'Cassandra Gemini', a 32-minute progressive suite. Part One sees the band indulging in power rhythms while throwing a series of vocal and guitar hooks at us, and by Part Three they have already reached a moment of glory most bands could only imagine ... cello-like sounds ascending and descending, gradually turning into an orchestra backing a screaming guitar as BIXLER- ZAVALA sings 'twenty five snakes pour out your eyes' ... oh yes, I can't stand it; anything you say CEDRIC. Then they settle down for a couple of jam sessions, before - in the tradition of all good symphonic suites - they restate the main theme from Part One and finish it (and us) off.

Let me remind those who cavill that this suite alone would have practically filled a 1970s album. Even if the ambient parts aren't to your taste, you still have an hour of power to listen to. The music here is so condensed, with more ideas per square inch of acetate than you'll find anywhere else. The nearest comparison I can find is it's like listening to a GENTLE GIANT album on 45rpm rather than 33.

A fair proportion of those who read glowing reviews like this won't like THE MARS VOLTA'S music. I didn't use the words 'pleasant' or 'calm' in my review. If you're looking for something to ease your mind after a hard day at the office, go grab a RENAISSANCE or a CAMEL CD. This hurts to listen to. Honestly, my chest aches as I listen to it. I have to find something to make me relax afterwards.

Oh yes, they left off the title track, the Rosetta Stone that allows you to interpret the storyline. You can get it on the single 'The Widow'. It should be listened to before the album proper.

THE MARS VOLTA paint on a larger canvas than virtually anyone else in music today. Naturally not all of this album will appeal to you the first few times you hear it. It's not perfect; that wasn't the point. But it is astonishing, and is guaranteed to spice up the most jaded musical palette. You might end up hating it, but you must give it a try.

russellk | 5/5 |


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