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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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5 stars Spanish-flavored heavy progressive rock band The Mars Volta made their second album equally as conceptual as their first; this time, they rip out five songs that all flow into one another. If the last album didn't do it, this one certainly establishes Cedric Bixler-Zavala as a dark and menacing poet, melting words and phrases and languages together, producing some gruesomely contorted lyrical fiends. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez again shows himself to be one of the most creative guitarists of the twenty-first century, using outlandish effects and frantic fretwork.

"Cygnus.Vismund Cygnus" What an excellent way to begin an album of such hyperactive and distorted proportions. For forty-five seconds, things are quiet, with an acoustic guitar and Bixler-Zavala's hushed singing. Then the music explodes like a blast from an overextended pressure cooker. One of the major riffs to this song always reminds me of "Sound Chaser" by Yes. The longest segment of the song retains an odd time signature in which the accents count two, three, then one, keeping a 29/16 time signature throughout and giving Rodriguez-Lopez ample time for soloing, although he keeps an economy to his sound as the music builds. Over that same rhythm, the vocalist returns as the band assumes a fuller sound. After some cacophony (still keeping the rhythm in the background), the original loud part comes back with just as much force, if not more, especially from Bixler-Zavala. Everything fades out to static. The voices that break through are a tad unsettling, sounding like a woman having sex, being raped, or being abused in some other manner. Some sound effects carry on to take the listener directly into the next track.

"The Widow" The softest song on the album, "The Widow" flows right in from the sound effects at the end of the first track. The lyrics have several evocative verbs and haunting language overall. After the song proper, all manner of sound effects enter, with an otherworldly organ-like instrument. The whole section sounds cut and spliced back together in a sloppy manner, which no doubt was the intention.

"L' Via L' Viaquez" Again, bizarre sound effects bridge the tracks, and in this case, strange percussion does the trick. The music is slightly more conventional than anything else here (although less so than "The Widow"); it is like heavy metal meets mariachi music. Much of the lyrics are in Spanish. In between the heavier sections, there are quiet, sinister sounding bits, and during the last time around, Bixler-Zavala's voice is laden with shadowy effects. The song closes with Latin percussion, almost unrestrained piano, Rodriguez-Lopez's unrepressed guitar, and Bixler-Zavala's dark and gradually slowed vocals.

"Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" Coquí frogs take up the first four minutes of this piece, as Bixler-Zavala's voice and synthesizers build to the song proper. As with the previous songs, the vocal melodies are incredibly strong and memorable. The lengthy instrumental section in the middle features brass instruments and spacey noises, and the band reenters very casually, repeating a wonderful riff. Even if the music drags somewhat (and the song is almost half over by the time the singing begins), this is an excellently crafted track.

"Cassandra Geminni" The most complex piece on the album (although divided up for business purposes) has an abrupt beginning and is certainly the hardest on the album to digest. The vocals in some parts are burdened with effects (although only briefly). Even though they do not stand out quite as much as they did on other tracks, the drums play an integral role on this lengthy song, and Rodriguez-Lopez's creative guitar riffs, runs, and general insanity make for lots of interesting listening. A long instrumental section lets the music breathe, giving Rodriquez-Lopez a chance to dabble in more atmospheric and experimental guitar playing. A riveting saxophone solo takes over on top of the spacey sound. Most of all, I love how the final fifty-four seconds is a reprise of the very beginning of the album. At times, "Cassandra Geminni" is something of a mess. It's hard to get into, but has several exciting moments that make it worth hearing. I do feel that since they broke the song up intro different tracks anyway, they would have done better making different songs from the parts. Despite its length and complexity, this is the worst track here.

Epignosis | 5/5 |


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