THE MARS VOLTA – Frances The Mute

THE MARS VOLTA - Frances The Mute


Universal Records
Release date: March 1, 2005

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In the movie Un Chien Andalou (by Luis Bunuel, 1929), there is a scene where an eye is being cut open with a razor in an extreme close up mode. It’s the kind of scene you wish you never saw, but at the same time a spellbinding scene you could never ignore. The scene demands your attention and it hits you with an impact that will make a mark on your subconsciousness for life. Similar to this phenomena, Frances The Mute has the same effect; the second full-length studio album from The Mars Volta.

This intense and massive, yet dynamic and lyrical, album is carried forward by a rarely found, yet vital, drum and bass relationship, and cascades of mystical guitar work, often accompanied by very organic organs. A few passages are superbly colored with strings and horns, but it’s nevertheless the incredible voice of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, which makes this album sparkle and soar. Bixler-Zavala truly has a voice of another world, and he uses it to take us with him to that very place. Like Peter Pan, he takes us to Neverland, albeit a Neverland of a much darker kind.

The Mars Volta have a boundless style as far as pinpointing a genre is concerned, which is in line with the formation philosophy of the band. They have established their own unique sound, although clearly inspired and influenced by many. On Frances The Mute, there are a handful of passages that have more apparent origins than others, such as the vocal arrangements in the chorus of “Cygnus….Vismund Cygnus” (very Frank Zappa), the phrasing in the slow, Foxtrot-style guitar solo in “L’ Via L’ Viaquez” (also Zappa), and some of the guitar and noise experiments (very Jimi Hendrix) and the electronic ambient moods in “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” (very Pink Floyd). What they have managed to do (unlike many others) is to thrive on their influences. In one way, it’s homage to the heroes of the past, in another way it’s a leap into the future. Thus, one can predict that The Mars Volta will be the inspiration for many in the years to come.

As far as lyrics are concerned, it’s not easy to catch their drift. Supposedly, the words are based on some diary notes found by the now deceased member Jeremy Ward. The sense or meaning in the words could be subject to in-depth analysis and debate. Still, with their words, they paint a number of tiny pictures, like scenes in a movie, and these pictures add up to an impression, which is not possible to put into a few, simple words. This impression is further supported by their complex and diverse music, hand-in-hand with a theatrical production… and another note regarding the lyrics: they are both in Spanish and English, and singer Bixler-Zavala swings effortlessly from one to the other and back again.

Frances The Mute is comprised of 5 compositions spread across 12 tracks, where the last track (untitled) is entirely the very first minute of the intro of “Cygnus….Vismund Cygnus” (track 1). In this way, they have tied the end to the beginning, like a snake biting its own tail. But the finest jewel in this chandelier is undoubtedly “The Widow,” which is blessed with a melody line so beautiful one is left flabbergasted and utterly desperate for more.

On the negative side, some of the noisy, experimental passages lack a sense of direction compared to the rest of the arrangements. At the same time, the band have managed to preserve a very “live” feeling throughout the album, and perhaps this feeling would have suffered from a more strict production. Other than that, there are absolutely no other negative things to be said about this album. It’s simply a masterpiece.

There should, however, be a warning given on this album: a warning against a high risk of addiction. The music from this album eats its way into your brain and disturbs every fragment of common sense you might have. It’s just like watching something extremely brutal or violent: it makes your stomach turn and you wish you never would have seen it, but you know you could never take your eyes off it because it owns your body and soul.

So, dear reader, if you are a curious, open-minded admirer of music in its widest and deepest sense, you have Metal Express’ most sincere recommendation: Frances The Mute is worth every nickel.

PS! The album cover is designed by Hypnosis Master Storm Thorgerson, who had his hands on pretty much every Pink Floyd cover in the 1970s. Needless to say, he adds yet another dimension to the music with his artwork!


  • Frode Leirvik

    Frode was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Norway. His headbanging experience started when his brother-in-law gave him Deep Purple’s Fireball at the age of ten. Since then, he has also been a fan of and active in several other musical genres, resulting in a deep and profound interest in music. Some of his favorites, among all of those who have somehow managed to tap into the universal force of Progressive Music are (in no particular order): Thule, Dream Theater, King Crimson,Pink Floyd, Rush, Spock’s Beard, Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman, Ekseption, Focus, The Beatles, Deep Purple and Frank Zappa.

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