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

FRANCES THE MUTE

The Mars Volta

 

Heavy Prog

4.05 | 729 ratings

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santiagoprog
5 stars The best album the Volta's ever done. It's carefully composed, meticulously crafted and has what's perhaps both Omar's best guitar performances and Cedric's best vocal takes. Like every Volta album - with the possible exception of De-Loused - it's an excess feast, but a very well done one.

The main complaint every non-diehard-fan has about this album is against those stunningly long segments of ambient noise found on many of the songs, which make a sizeable contribution to the track lengths in every song except L'Via. It's important to notice that, since their use is intentional, they are music as well (not noise), so overlooking them would be missing the point. I found them boring at first, mostly because of the amazing intensity of every song here (which accelerates you), but then I realized what they meant and how they integrated and contributed to the overall flow of the album, and I really enjoyed them. The only one I still struggle a bit with is that strange distorted-organ coming after The Widow, which is indeed a bit too shocking. But the one coming before that sounds great, and L'Via and Miranda flow so well with those parts that I was amazed to open my mind by enjoying them.

As for the album itself, I found that what makes TMV so unique is upfront: Blasting, furious intensity all over it. Not only in those guitar seizures or the violent moments, but also there's a feral intensity in the quieter parts, a sense of tension that I felt a bit stiff on Amputechture and not quite so accomplished on The Bedlam In Goliath, since in that album everything is just very loud. There's a great control of intensity here. Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus is a great example: Can you really calm down when that solo comes? The answer: Yes, but only for the following 30 seconds... There's tension everywhere, all over it, and it shows itself gently, very well displayed. That's this album's main virtue. When both the explosions and the chill-outs are so excellently managed, it's a treat to hear.

Another great thing about it is how Omar manages to tie most of his influences into his own style, creating original sounds. There's a lot to appreciate here, from Crimsonian solos popping up every now and then up to what sounds like a crazed P-funk in Cygnus' manic delivery, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. It's pure prog-sound attitude, totallly devoid of committing to anything but its own rules. Cramming many things into one song it's even easy, but making a great song MIXING things is quite an accomplishment.

As for the song themselves, they succeed at being both part of a whole and unique entities at the same time. Each track is a world by itself: Cygnus makes up for the perfect introduction, 9 relentless minutes of fury exploding at full tilt on Cedric's final screams; there are dramatic crescendos, both in a short version (The Widow) and in a full-on, bombastic, fierce chill-out (Miranda), and L'Via, which refuses any easy description (it would be something like a freakout progged-up metal-salsa night). It's so well done that you tend to sing (or scream?) along without caring exactly about its meaning.

As for that, I find the lyrics quite hard to decipher but also quite intriguing. There's a nice lyrical work here, very mysterious and thought-inducing metaphores, something quite lacking for me on most of the other albums. But of course what really makes those lyrics lift off is what are undoubtely Cedric's most amazing performances, peaking specially on Miranda, which scares and amazes the hell out of me at every single listen. It's a wonder to hear, absolutely stunning at every single verse. He even manage to succeed greatly in blowing my mind off on L'Via, despite the fact that I can detect the slightly sloppy accent on his Spanish easily since I'm from Argentina. Clean, powerful, intense (how many times I've used that word already?) with the right performance nuances, and a cool effect every now and then (like Spider-Cedric at the beginning of Cassandra Geminni). A great development from De-Loused, and Cedric never sang like this later, or the many effects of the following albums didn't let him.

Cassandra... deserves a part of its own. A 32-minute monster which is (and at the same time isn't) an album by itself, which starts originally by avoiding a long intro and blowing your ears right from the first second. From then Omar goes on a rampage with his guitar, while Cedric sings the hell out of his lungs (AND ITS MULTIPLE SONS WITH THEIR MANDIBLE TONGUES SET CRUCIFIED FIRES TO PETRIFIED HOMES... amazing!!!) like for 18 minutes... A few minutes of a mysterious, chilled-out interlude and the re-emergence of the whole thing in full force, with sax? flute? whatever it is before crashing in one last chorus. As a nice extra and to bring a fitting closure, Sarcophagi gets a reprise at a higher volume than the version found at the beginning of the album. As an amazing thing: Most of the song's many riffs are built around one single note, E. Check it out by yourselves and you'll hear it.

In short, this album develops things that were in primary stages on De-Loused At The Comatorium, and it's a final point in a way for TMV, since from Amputechture on things take another direction (I really like Amputechure and Bedlam, though, they explore many things that this album doesn't). However, neither Omar composed anything so flawlessly intense, nor Cedric sang as well and hypnotically attractive (with the tremendous exception of the amazing Asilos Magdalena) like what they display here. A masterpiece.

santiagoprog | 5/5 |

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