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The Mars Volta - Francis The Mute

Review: Jack Foley

BEFORE we go any further, it's probably worth pointing out that The Mars Volta is neither a concept album band nor a prog band.

They excel at both, but Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala formed The Mars Volta in 2001 in order to dispose of labels and limitations of any kind, to move beyond genres.

The result is Frances The Mute, the duo's second album, which arrives like a thunderbolt to really challenge listeners.

The album builds a story around the memory of a dear-departed friend (much like its predecessor, De-Loused in the Comatorium), and is inspired by a diary found by late band-mate, Jeremy Ward, and the similarity of the anonymous author's life to his own.

Or, to let singer/lyricist, Bixler-Zavala explain: "The diary told of the author being adopted and looking for his real parents. The names of each song are named after people in the diary. Each person he meets sort of points him in the direction of his biological parents."

Adds Omar: "Every work of music or art is going to reflect your experiences and feelings at the time. This record was obviously influenced by the trauma of losing Jeremy."

"It's a story of abandonment and addiction," continues Cedric. "As to whether any of it happened is not certin. That's something best suited for the listener to figure out. We can only provide the pieces."

Intrigued? What's more, the album is basically comprised of five inter-connected songs, which kick off with the trademark Volta crescendos of opener, Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, before turning ambient, and then ballad-based, and then exploring the sound of old Cuba.

It's a riotous epic, a mind-numbing, head-scratching trip into musical oblivion, that recalls the tripped out psychedelia of Seventies Pink Floyd at their giddiest - with touches of Zeppelin and Miles Davis thrown in.

Mars Volta fans will be in seventh heaven; the rest will doubtless love it or loathe it. But the line between genius and madness has seldom seemed quite so blurred.

Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, for instance, is a sprawling epic that builds and builds and builds, much in the same way as certain Muse tracks do, before giving way into some deeply ambient moments.

The Widow is a ballad of sorts, performed in that inimitable Mars Volta style.

But the album highlight is the Latino-flavoured exuberance of L'Via L'Viaquez, which provides a virtuoso moment from just about everyone involved - from Bixler-Zavalas' en Espanol vocal and Rodriguez-Lopez' guitar speaking in tongues, to Jon Theodore's wild drum rolls and Juan Alderete's half-tempo salsa grooves.

The track is also notable for featuring guest appearances from Red Hot Chili Pepper's Flea and John Frusciante - although you might not notice!

Having reached some a giddy high, however, the rest of Frances The Mute struggles to distinguish itself, even though the mixture of styles keep on coming.

But for L'Via L'Viaquez alone, it remains worth having and is certain to create a talking point for anyone who likes to be challenged by their musical.

It is arthouse in the extreme but rather like the best independent creativity, it demands to be heard and forces you to have an opinion - and that can only be a good thing.

We'd recommend it, but with caution!

Mars Volta - The Widow

Track listing:
1. Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus
2. A. Sarcophagi
3. B. Umbilical Syllables
4. C. Facilia Descenus Averni
5. D. Con Safo
6. The Widow
7. L'Via L'Viaquez
8. Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore
9. A. Tathata Sunyata
10. B. Pour Another Icepick
11. C. Pisacis (Phra-men-ma)
12. D. Con Safo
13. Cassandra Gemini
14. A. Tarantism
15. B. Plant A Nail In the Navel Stream
16. C. Faminepulse
17. D. Multiple Spouse Wounds
18. E. Sarcophagi

Mars Volta - The Widow

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