The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute
Progressive Rock
12 songs (76:57)
Release year: 2005
Reviewed by Bar
Archive review

The contemporary prog scene is unfortunately littered with countless bands that seek to do no more than reproduce the sound of yesteryear’s bands. Bands like Yes and Genesis, in particular, have inspired what is quite frankly a silly amount of sound-alike clones. Thankfully, there are still a few bands like The Mars Volta who approach progressive music with a view towards what that originally meant. They hit the ground running in 2003 with their excellent debut De-Loused in the Comatorium and to this day many observers feel they haven’t been able to match its energy and creativity. I am not one such observer. For me, the pinnacle of their achievements arrived in 2005 in the form of this masterpiece, Frances the Mute.

From the earliest moments of the album, it’s clear that The Mars Volta are keen to break free from standard genre moulds. Much like the great prog bands of the 70s, chief songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez utilises a basic rock framework, but also combines his many other varied influences together in an attempt to expand the boundaries of what might be considered rock. In the first of many curiously titled tracks, Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus, this is already plainly apparent. It’s a hyperactive monster of an opener that straddles the line between punk, post-punk and noise rock, all combined effortlessly with space rock, electronica and elements of pure psychedelia. It’s extremely busy to say the least, but although on first exposure the listener might feel overwhelmed, repeated listening increasingly reveals that every note played and each effect employed are very deliberately placed. The sheer manic energy with which the song is performed is certain to be of interest to metal heads, even if it never strays into proper metal territory.

L’via L’viaquez is one the band’s best tracks ever. It’s a blistering amalgam of electric blues and latin rhythms, with seamlessly incorporated sections of straight-up salsa and an experimental, percussively focused bridge. Sounds weird? That’s because it is, and the fact that The Mars Volta turn it into such an easy to digest, catchy piece of music is yet another reason this album is such a success. The Widow and Miranda That Ghost Isn’t Holy Anymore are tracks which you might say reveal a slightly more delicate side of the band, although they are by no means sterile or pointless. They each employ the band’s horn section to great effect, while Cedric’s vocals and Omar’s guitar get a chance to really shine.

That brings us to the album’s centrepiece, the monumental 32 minute behemoth that is Cassandra Gemini (which is split into 8 tracks). This is the sort of music that the word progressive was originally coined to describe. Instantly, your ears are greeted by Omar making a frenzied, convulsive attack on his fret board which creates an onslaught of notes forming one of the most unique guitar riffs ever penned. From this moment on, the song simply explodes with energy at every turn, featuring a multitude of instruments, each masterfully arranged into the whole. It’s part classic rock, part symphonic prog, part jazz, and part post-punk masterpiece. Eventually, it becomes clear is that the composition doesn’t last 32 minutes just for the sake of density. There are more than enough solid musical ideas here to justify the running time, and it’s a credit to the band that at no point does it ever become boring.

When this album hit in 2005, it was a revelation for Prog fans starved of genuinely explorative music. Every track is quite different from the last, featuring a vast assortment of influences from rock, jazz, latin music and otherwise, and yet there is a definite sense of cohesion as far the overall sound of the album is concerned. Although the band has issued several fine albums since this release, they have not yet been able to reach the heights to which they soared with Frances the Mute.

Killing Songs :
Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, L'via L'viaquez, Cassandra Gemini
Bar quoted 94 / 100
Other albums by The Mars Volta that we have reviewed:
The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet reviewed by Milan and quoted 80 / 100
The Mars Volta - De-loused in the Comatorium reviewed by Milan and quoted 90 / 100
The Mars Volta - Octahedron reviewed by James and quoted 86 / 100
The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath reviewed by James and quoted 96 / 100
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