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


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

4.07 | 956 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars A lot of people give five-star reviews out like candy. An album that they just really like to listen to might get a five star rating. For that reason, many five star ratings can't be taken seriously, and all people who truly believe an album is worthy of being called A masterpiece of progressive music, have the weight of their feelings compromised by superficially positive reviews (I'll admit, a couple of which are my own).

When I give a four-star review, I go with the guideline that at least 70% of the total album time is fun, carefully composed, artistic, and intelligent music. However, when I give a perfect five, I have to ask a few extra questions. When music historians look at this album, will they see it as an essential moment in the development of music? Can you trace the influences too easily or has the band really stepped forward and created something new? Will people take this album seriously, or will they look at it for its 'fun' value- whether you can dance to it or blast it in the car? Is the album as a whole a work of art in itself or is it just a few good songs that were all put in one CD case?

I have to say that Frances the Mute delivers in spades, more than many albums that are considered hallmarks of prog at its best. Yes, it's a concept album, and yes, the songs segue into one another between tracks, but it's more than just that. You can just tell that the band intended for you to listen to the album the full way through. More than anyone else, The Mars Volta is criticized for its ambient style and excessive use of white noise. However, with Frances the Mute, you know that all that noise has a purpose that contributes to the album as a whole.

Cyngnus... Vismund Cygnus-

This opener is really something special. I remember first hearing the album and turning the volume way up in the first thirty seconds- this is the point. Sarcophagi is like a prayer before a battle, and the opening slam is like the first gunshot. This was the first Volta I'd ever heard, and I was immediately hooked. I was immediately introduced to a fast, heavy, energetic sound with a really unique style. However, after a few more listens, I began to realize how multi-layered and complex the music was, how genuinely new the sound was, and how forcefully the music moved at some points. There are come incredible rising climaxes in this piece, counterpointed by the calm, ambient moments and, yes, white noise.

The Widow-

The is the track I listen to least, but it's still pretty good. It shows another side of Volta- one that you briefly saw during the opening track, but it's not until here that you really get a feel for the compositional range of Cedric and Omar. Unlike Dream Theater, who I've become a bit disenfranchised with, all the music is composed by Omar, and it shows. There's a feel of ensemble, that everybody realizes that they're part of something greater than their individual instrument. The beginning of this track is very vocal-centric, and you can feel the instruments backing that up rather than trying to be impressive and showboaty in the background.

L'via L'viaquez-

I don't know what the lyrics are and I don't care! This song is just a lot of fun to listen to. It's really amazing to listen and learn how the music evolves- every time the tempo picks up it's a different thought from Omar- the sound is never exactly the same from Cedric. This is the way symphonies were built! The sounds get awfully odd at some moments (not Sun Ra odd, but you get it), but it's all with a purpose. It feels like it's catchy without compromising any of the art, something many prog musicians aim for but might never truly reach.

Miranda that Ghost Just isn't Holy Anymore-

This song gets a lot of criticism, but it really is the lynchpin of the album- that x-factor that means I can answer yes to all those questions I mentioned. The truth of the matter is, it isn't a fun song. It doesn't make any sense by itself- it needs the context of the rest of the album. This is what makes it so essential- it unites the first half of the album with the incredible Cassandra Gemini. All the ambient noise is a slow crescendo- the whole song is like that.

But enough about how important it is, on to the song itself. It can be divided into two parts- the first part, which is a slow (very slow) buildup to the massive climax where the chorus overlaps at a great fortissimo. After the instrumental establishes, you can notice the music growing in intensity- not in pure volume, but in terms of layers and musical complexity. The second part is the essential transition point between the ambient, jazzy tracks preceding and the showpiece of the album. Cassandra Gemini itself starts out with an explosion, so it's like Miranda does the dirty work and brings the album all together.

Cassandra Gemini-

What can I say? It is what it is. It's a more turbulent song than anything I've ever heard in the world of prog rock. It's sound is explosive and it's lyrics are all over the place. However, these are superficial details. In terms of the intensity of the music, the crescendos, the changes in tempo, the layering of the parts and the interaction of lyrics and music- it's all mindboggling and unbelievable.

And yet it is believable. The sound is incredible and original, yet it's not like it's difficult to connect to. The structure is undefined, but it's not as if other prog songs aren't just like that. The climaxes are very realistic. In truth, this isn't a hard band to get into. It's also not that hard to get really deep into the music either. You can develop to ability to pick apart the sounds, see the layers, see the structure and the train of thought, and you understand what mental transformations this song is capable of creating.

What this song is, then, is a piece of musical engineering. It was all the best ideas, the best concepts, the best parts, and then just enough of that special drive behind it that makes it what it is. It's amazing to behold, but when you peel back all of its skin (is Cedric trying to tell me something here?) it's easy to see the real depth of intelligent and artistry. This is why it's the feature piece of such an amazing album, and this is why I have no choice but to give The Mars Volta's own Frances the Mute a five-star rating.

kickflipthecat | 5/5 |


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