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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
3 stars How about the variability of views regarding this album! As usual, I find myself smack in the middle.

First of all, based on some of the reviews, I was expecting to find an album half full of ambient noise. That is not the case, although the 10-15 minutes is certainly too much for my taste. On the other hand, many reviewers see Frances the Mute as a modern-day Red, or something equally mindblowing for its historical period. I'm not ready to go that far, because Frances is too inconsistent, but when it's good, it is absolutely mindblowing!

Cygnus. How cool is this intro? A nice strumming crescendo leads to an absolutely furious cacaphony, full of itchy guitar by Omar, maniacal wails by Cedric, and absolutely bombastic drumming by Theodore. It just doesn't get much more chaotic than this. Then we have a spacey mellotron-washed half tempo shift, followed by a nice build-up to do it all over again. Great stuff (except of course the ambient ending), and incredibly not the highlight of the album.

The Widow, L'Via L'Viaquez, Miranda that Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore. These songs are a major drop in quality, from the fairly formulaic dirge (Widow), the catchy-at-first--but ultimately way too repetitive--L'Via, and the ambient, eerie and tone-exploring Miranda... I don't fault TMV for trying any of these songs, but they simply aren't as interesting as Cygnus.

Cassandra Gemini. I had said not a couple days before getting this album that 30 minutes seemed to be the cutoff for a great, coherent, and consistently interesting epic. At 32 minutes, Cassandra will force me to alter my opinion--this is just a roller-coaster of intensity and absolutely killer music. Unlike Cygnus, where the opening sequence is by far the best, Cassandra just keep hitting you over the head with great stuff. It's really an assault, and just when you think they are going to slow it down and lose momentum, they pull out another great melody and beat your head open once again. It's also not a simple case of structuring a great epic (like Neal Morse)--they manage to have an improvisational, gritty, chaotic element that really puts things over the top.

It really is difficult to describe Cassandra's greatness, because at its heart, it's just 30+ minutes of rumbling triplets, but the growling bass, spacey guitar, and double helping of keys and synths really make this a special experience. I haven't even gotten to the grand finale yet! After a spacey freakout, rippling saxes signal the build of a phenomenal, Area-style jam (but with mellotron!), and then a memorable refrain from the beginning. I even hear some snippets that remind me of prog greats, such as Area, Rush, Crimson, Zappa, and even just a bit of Dream Theater (but in a good way--I promise!)

In sum, Frances the Mute contains one phenomenal song, one excellent song, and three average tracks. Not a masterpiece in my book, but required listening just for Cassandra Gemini.

Flucktrot | 3/5 |


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