The Mars Volta was/is a Genre-Busting Progressive Rock band from El Paso, Texas (at some points also based in Mexico) formed in 2001. Rolling Stone magazine named them the best prog-rock band of 2008. As of Feburary 2018, they have released six studio albums, an EP, a live album, and a handful of other releases including an unofficial B-sides and outtakes collection leaked to the Internet from an unknown source in August 2013. While critically divisive in some quarters (Pitchfork infamously gave a scathing 2.0/10 review to their second album Frances the Mute, by far the lowest rating it received from any major music publication), their work, particularly their first three albums, has attracted particular acclaim from the progressive rock community.They initially entered a hiatus in late 2012, which they formally announced as a break-up on January 25, 2013. However, the band members have continued to work with one another and have ultimately confirmed that they will ultimately reunite the project. Rodríguez-López and Parks went on to form a new project, Bosnian Rainbows. In addition, Rodríguez-López, Bixler-Zavala, and Hinojos' previous band, At the Drive-In, has reunited; they released a new single in 2016 and have a new album projected for 2017. As of April 2014, Rodriguez-López and Bixler-Zavala had also formed a new project entitled Antemasque (also featuring former Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea - who, for that matter, performed on several of the Mars Volta's albums).None of this has resulted in a reunion of the Mars Volta yet, but the band members have confirmed that it's just a matter of time before one happens; Rodríguez-López has indicated that he intends for one to happen, and it seems to be mainly a matter of scheduling as to when (he wishes for founding members Eva Gardner and Jon Theodore to be involved). Bixler-Zavala also indicated on Twitter in February 2018 that a reunion will occur, though he later clarified that it wouldn't be immediate.
- Omar Rodríguez-López: guitar, production
- Cedric Bixler-Zavala: lyrics, vocals
- Juan Alderete: electric bass
- Deantoni Parks: drums
- Marcel Rodríguez-López: percussion, synthesizers
- Lars Stalfors: sound manipulation, keyboards
- Dave Elitch: drums
- Blake Fleming: drums
- John Frusciante: guitar
- Eva Gardner: bass
- Linda Good: touring keyboardist
- Paul Hinojos: sound technician, occasional guitar
- Ralph Jasso: bass
- Jason Lader: occasional bassist
- Isaiah Ikey Owens: keyboards
- Thomas Pridgen: drums
- Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez: flute, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet.
- Jon Theodore: drums
- Jeremy Michael Ward: sound technician
- 2001 - Tremulant (EP)
- 2003 - De-Loused in the Comatorium
- 2005 - Frances the Mute
- 2005 - Scabdates (Live Album)
- 2006 - Amputechture
- 2008 - The Bedlam in Goliath
- 2009 - Octahedron
- 2012 - Noctourniquet
This band provides examples of:
- AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: Cedric does this at times, particularly with Spanish passages, to make the lyrics fit the rhythms. Doesn't make the songs any less compelling.
- Album Intro Track: De-Loused in the Comatorium has "Son et lumiere", while Scabdates has "Abrasions Mount the Timpani". "Vicarious Atonement" from Amputechure has the feeling of one of these, but it's much longer than a typical example (in fact, it's long enough to qualify as Epic Rocking by itself); however, it's much more subdued in tone and style than the rest of the album (even including the concluding "El ciervo vulnerado", which is also subdued, but creepy as hell).
- Altum Videtur: The song movement "Facilis descenus averni" translates as "Easy Is the Descent into Hell"; "Vade mecum" means "Go with Me"; "In absentia" is a legal term taken from Latin meaning "in absence" or "while absent".
- Animal Motifs: There's lots of bird imagery on Frances the Mute, with ravens, swans, and owls being prominently mentioned. Worms and snakes are also mentioned, in an apparently phallic context.
- Arc Number: The number 25 is used a lot in Frances the Mute, namely in the song "Cassandra Gemini". It's used in the lyrics, and around 10 minutes in you can hear it spoken very quietly.
- "Awesome McCool" Name: Try telling anyone the names Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Alfredo Rodríguez-López are dull-sounding. Also, Cerpin Taxt and Vismund Cygnus.
- Berserk Button: Cedric tends to get vocal about his dislikes, like moshing, and cigarettes.Cedric (during the 09/13/2004 show): Hey, listen, man, if you guys came to see us, don't throw shit on the stage. Someone over there, one of you assholes, whoever threw it - I know you’re not all assholes - I mean, what the fuck were you thinking? When I go see my favorite band, I’m not gonna throw shit at them. You go do that at, like, 3 Doors Down or fuckin’ Limp Bizkit. I bet you guys are the ones who drive really bad too.
- Sadly later that day a girl was smothered during a moshpit and died not too long after.
- At another live show someone threw beer at Cedric and between songs he said he would fight outside after the show and that he would "kick their fucking ass"
- (Doubles as a Take That!)
- Sadly later that day a girl was smothered during a moshpit and died not too long after.
- Bilingual Bonus: Several songs have Spanish lyrics and one ("Asilos Magdalena") is entirely in Spanish. Amongst song/movement titles, "Tira me a las arañas" is slightly misspelled Spanish for "Throw Me to the Spiders"note , "Cicatriz" translates as "Scar", "Con safo" is a Chicano term that translates as "With Respect", and "Asilos Magdalena" translates as "Magdalene Asylums".note Meanwhile, "una cavaletta" is a term for woman who constantly tries to change her lover into a fantasy she has conjured.
- Granted, Cedric's Spanish is mostly mispronounced on purpose to fit his vocal range and/or the rhythms of the songs.
- Book Ends:
- The "Sarcophagi" sections on Frances the Mute open and close the album; a whistling kettle in the first instance is also taken off the stove in the second.
- The opening and closing tracks of Amputechture could also count, as they're a lot more subdued than the rest of the album - though the closing track, "El ciervo vulnerado", nonetheless is also creepy enough to qualify as a Last Note Nightmare for the entire album.
- Breather Episode: Played with in some cases. "Tira me a las arañas" on the first album has the structure of one, and it serves as an intro to "Drunkship of Lanterns", but it's also creepy as hell. The same goes for "Haruspex" and "Caviglia" on Scabdates, which serve as intros to "Concertina" and "Cicatriz" respectively. Some actual songs also serve as these, but they usually end with Last Note Nightmares: "Tourniquet Man", "Asilos Magdalena", "The Widow", even "Televators" and "Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (though the ending of the latter is something of a case of Nothing Is Scarier). "Vermicide" is practically the only example on their first four albums that plays the trope completely straight. Octahedron, meanwhile, pretty much inverts the trope (the band did refer to it as their "acoustic album", after all), and there are a few straight examples on Noctourniquet as well ("Vedamalady" in particular).
- Call-Back and Call-Forward: "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" features the phrase "It's not over 'til the tremulant sings", while "Eunuch Provocateur" contains the phrase "De-loused in the comatorium".
- Careful with That Axe: Towards the end of "Goliath". There's also a random scream thrown in at about 3:20 into "Cavalettas".
- Concept Album: Four of them, in fact:
- De-Loused in the Comatorium: A man named Cerpin Taxt attempts suicide via a mix of morphine and rat poison, but instead falls into a coma for a week and experiences very strange hallucinations during this time. He ultimately jumps off a bridge onto a freeway during rush hour. Very loosely based on the life and death of the band's friend, Julio Vanegas.
- Frances the Mute: Based on a diary found by the band's late audio manipulator, Jeremy Ward, in the backseat of a car in his days as a repo man. The journal described a man's search for his biological parents. The names of those who led him to his parents were altered to create the titles of the songs. In the album's story, Vismund Cygnus goes searching for his mother Frances. Turns out Cygnus and the people he spoke to were split personalities of Frances' that came about after she was raped by priests, hence every character's aversion to the church and why Frances went mute; she (or her personality Cassandra) ends up killing the priests at the end of the narrative.
- The Bedlam in Goliath: The lyrics are based on sayings and events that the band encountered while using an old ouija board they found in Jerusalem, and the string of unpleasant events that they thought were due to a curse from the board. Bixler-Zavala later said it was a commentary on how women are treated in Islamic countries.
- Noctourniquet is said to be a concept album, somehow relating to Solomon Grundy from DCU, and Hyacinthus from Greek myth.
- As for the other two albums, Amputechture didn't have a specific story but was all about organized religion and the things the band didn't like about it; while Octahedron had one or two songs being about reacting to the Republicans winning the election at the time ("Teflon"), or the Salem witch trials ("With Twilight as My Guide").
- Cover Version: Six cover versions of songs by some of their favorite bands were recorded for use as bonus tracks on various versions of The Bedlam in Goliath.
- Deadpan Snarker: Cedric.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: According to an interview Cedric gave while promoting Octahedron, the story of The Bedlam in Goliath is intended to be a metaphor for the way women are treated in Islamic countries.
- Downer Ending: Their first two albums both seem to end this way.
"Now there's no light, now there's no time
- Deloused in the Comatorium ends with Cerpin Taxt awakening from his coma only to throw himself off of a highway overpass in "Televators", and seemingly permanently trapped in the Comatorium in "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt", which could be interpreted as a Dying Dream.
- Frances the Mute is not at all clear about its events, but it definitely doesn't seem to be happy. In "Cassandra Gemini", Frances' alternate personality Cassandra apparently murders the priests that raped her in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Afterwards, she seems to lapse back into muteness, and the album ends with a very bleak reprise of the first section's chorus before reprising the intro of "Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus".
You ain't got nothing, your life was just a lie"
- Driven to Suicide: Cerpin Taxt. This is pretty much a foregone conclusion since he's based on a real life friend of the band, Julio Venegas, who committed suicide.
- Drone of Dread: Used frequently on Frances the Mute, notably in the intro to "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" and the title track (which was released separately as a single).
- Dying Dream: "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" can be interpreted as one.
- Ennio Morricone Pastiche: Most of "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" is one by Omar's own admission. The second movement of "Frances the Mute" ("Nineteen Sank, While Six Could Swim", which features the Nightmare Fuel lyrical passage that arguably frames the entire album) also arguably qualifies.
- Epic Rocking: They have some pretty lengthy songs, but topping them all is the 32-minute "Cassandra Gemini" from Frances the Mute. Also notable because many of its musical themes were taken from live jams done in the middle of their previous longest song from De-Loused in the Comatorium, "Cicatriz ESP", which would extend its length from 12 minutes (buffered by an ambient section in the middle) to 40+ minutes (all music). A live version of one of these performances is available on Scabdates, although it also has eight minutes of Mind Screw-inducing ambience inserted into the middle for some reason.
- Erudite Stoner: Cedric has said he was smoking $1,000 worth of weed per week at one point, but the vocabulary of his lyrics is frequently collegiate-level or higher. Before Jeremy Michael Ward's death from a heroin overdose, the band had also apparently been using quite a lot of hard drugs, including opiates, but Bixler-Zavala indicated, "One day, we were all getting high, and Jeremy asked me if I could see he had worms in his head. I never touched the stuff again. His passing was the final nail in the coffin. We never went back."
- Fading into the Next Song: Every transition on Frances the Mute except the last one, which uses Siamese Twin Songs instead.
- Freud Was Right: Seemingly invoked on Frances the Mute with the gigantic amount of phallic (and, to a lesser extent, yonic) imagery throughout the album (for instance, any reference to an icepick or stabbing, plus the examples mentioned above under Animal Motifs). There's so much that it has to have been deliberate.
- Fun with Acronyms: Rather than the traditional "Extrasensory perception", "ESP" in the song titles on De-Loused means "Ectopic Shapeshifting Penance-propulsion".
- Gratuitous French: "Son et lumière" translates as "Sound and Light".
- Gratuitous Greek: "Tetragrammaton" (Τετραγράμματον) literally translates as "four-letter word". When used in English, it's almost always a reference to YHWH (יהוה), the name of God in Judaism and Christianity's Old Testament; some traditions of Judaism have a proscription against speaking this name or transliterations of it such as Yahweh and Jehovah.
- Gratuitous Russian: "Lapochka" ("Лапочка") is a term of affection that roughly resembles the English colloquialisms "honey", "sweetie", "darling", "dear", "cutie pie", etc. It's a feminine form, so it's usually directed towards women, and it also tends not to be used for persons older than the speaker.
- Hostage Situation: While Octahedron lacks a coherent story, the lyrics frequently allude to a deadly capturing scenario, in which the singer partook with some else. They are now estranged somehow.
- Large Ham: Cedric Bixler Zavala is one of the hammiest vocalists in progressive rock, a genre full of large hams - not that anyone's complaining. If a song has an epic chorus, it's probably because Cedric is chewing the scenery throughout it.
- Last Note Nightmare: The band love this trope. "Asilos Magdalena" might be the most obvious example, but "Televators," "The Widow," "L'Via L'Viaquez" and a number of other songs also qualify.
- Most notably, however, is probably "Tourniquet Man". Being the only quiet spot on the otherwise cacophonic The Bedlam in Goliath, however, this was probably to be expected. Starting off slow but ominous, the vocals suddenly become horribly distorted halfway through, the backing synths slow down and slur, the drumming grows erratic, and the saxophone keeps on playing as if nothing had happened (though to be fair, Omar has a proud tradition of giving each musician their part and not letting them hear everyone else's part until the end of recording, so for all Adrian knew, nothing had happened).
- Also "El ciervo vulnerado", which is one of the creepiest songs they ever wrote, and which closes off Amputechture.
- Leave the Camera Running: this is used throughout Frances the Mute with the endings of songs, most likely for an ambient effect. The most prominent example may be "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore", which opens with four minutes of coqui frogs singing.
- Loudness War: Every single album has clipping, which in many cases is audible. Noctourniquet was so bad that even the mastering engineer criticised it, claiming she was forced (by either the label or the band; it's not clear which) to master it that way. At least some of the vinyl editions also have clipping. Luckily there are programs that can be used to remedy this. Overall, the albums with the worst mastering are De-Loused (no surprise there as it was a Rick Rubin production) and Noctourniquet, while Octahedron is less terrible about this than the others, but none of them are mastered well.
- Mind Screw: Most of their lyrics and quite a bit of their music.
- Mind Screwdriver: The story the band wrote to explain the plot of De-Loused in the Comatorium.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: They can vary from anywhere from a 1 (most of "Televators" apart from the ending and the chorus, parts of "Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore") to about an 8 (the heaviest parts of songs like "Aberinkula" and "Day of the Baphomets"). Asking "Are the Mars Volta a metal band?" at the right forum might be a good way to start a twenty-page argument; a number of reviewers have categorised them as such, but most metal sites don't actually have them listed in their archives (though a few, such as Metal Storm, have pages for them). Overall, they're probably comparable to Rush in that, at their heaviest, they might as well be metal, but they have enough softer moments that most people probably wouldn't categorise them as metal overall. Prog Archives, for whatever that's worth, has them categorised as "Heavy Prog", which is pretty much the step between normal Progressive Rock and Progressive Metal.
- Musical Pastiche: The segment between "They tied a rope around her legs and let her hang for seven days" and "This never happened" in the song "Frances the Mute" sounds like it belongs on one of the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums (which are an acknowledged influence on the band). Other portions of the song sound like they were dropped in from a Spaghetti Western soundtrack (and arguably qualify as an Ennio Morricone Pastiche).
- The Name Is Bond, James Bond: "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus"
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Their genre is hard to define, and has elements of Prog, Post-hardcore, Latin, and Electronic, amongst others. They are most frequently classified as Progressive Rock, but even though this trope is frequently considered a necessary component of prog, it doesn't feel like an adequate descriptor.
- No Ending: Subverted with "Cassandra Gemini", where the penultimate movement builds to a climax and suddenly cuts off, only to reprise "Sarcophagi" from the start of the album. A couple of other songs at least border this trope due to how abruptly they end, but they're inextricably linked with other songs due to Fading into the Next Song and/or Siamese Twin Songs. Examples include "Aberinkula", "Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore", "Tetragrammaton", "Day of the Baphomets", and especially "Vicarious Atonement". The clearest straight example in the band's discography is "El ciervo vulnerado", which, after backmasked (and, in one case, half-speed) vocal samples from earlier in the song, crescendos and then cuts off abruptly.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Their ambient interludes like the ones on "Cicatriz ESP" and various segments of Frances the Mute (particularly the title track) can definitely have this effect, as can the entirety of "El ciervo vulnerado", the final song on Amputechture.
- Portmanteau: At least three album titles bear one (Scabdates, Amputechture, Noctourniquet), let alone their song names. And then there are their lyrics (see Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness below).
- Rape and Revenge: The story of Frances the Mute.
- Real Life Writes the Plot:
- Cerpin Taxt is based on a real-life friend of the band, Julio Venegas. Because Venegas committed suicide, so does Taxt.
- The story of Frances the Mute is apparently inspired by a diary the band's late sound engineer, Jeremy Michael Ward, found while working as a repo man.
- The story of The Bedlam in Goliath is inspired by trouble the band experienced during the recording sessions of the album after they started using a ouija board.
- "Concertina" is another example, discussed under Take That!.
- As mentioned above under Concept Album, one of the songs on Octahedron was a response to the Republicans' victory in the 2010 Congressional elections.
- Octahedron has several songs that refer to kidnappings and ransoms, which Cedric has said occur commonly in Latin cultures. The band had two friends from Texas who disappeared without explanation, and they never knew "whether they simply took off or if they met with foul play".
- Religion Rant Song: Several songs on Amputechture are apparently examples, although it's sometimes difficult to tell with the Word Salad Lyrics. There is a strongly anti-religious theme to the concept of Frances the Mute, too, and evidently Noctorniquet has a bit of this as well.
- Revolving Door Band: Cedric and Omar are the only constant members of a line-up that has changed countless times over the years. Most notably, the band has had three drummers since Jon Theodore left in 2006. That said, since Amputechture Cedric and Omar have been considered the only members of the Mars Volta proper; the other musicians are considered to belong to "The Mars Volta Group", for whatever that's worth.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Freaking everywhere, often augmented by ubiquitous portmanteaus as well. Anyone who understands all the words they use without looking any of them up probably deserves some kind of award. Just look at the first two stanzas of "Cut That City", the first song on their first EP:Neonecropopulace has no reflection
Neocaeczaristic phallic ruins
Just east of the rival denial the techs are breathing
Welcome to this neotokyo
Gridlocks will warn the cromlech alarm
Bouquet of cuticles
Tramontane torching the tramontane
I've heard the mumbling of citadels shifting on the Richter scale
- Shout-Out: There are several in the Mind Screwdriver story to De-Loused, such as:
- «Yo ya me voy, y nadien me recordará» (“I’m already leaving, and nobody will remember me”) is a reference to Alejandro Jodorowsky's film Fando y Lis, in which Lis sings an almost identical line, «Yo moriré, y nadie se acordará de mi» (“I will die, and nobody will remember me”). Omar and Cedric are on record as admirers of Jodorowsky’s films.
- “Do what thou wilt” is a reference to Aleister Crowley and the central law of Thelema (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will”). This phrase also appears in “Askpeios”.
- “I’ll reign blood on this city” is probably a reference to Slayer’s Reign in Blood and its sort-of Title Track “Raining Blood”, both of which get similar puns out of the homophone.
- “Was it everybody else who had already died?” may be a Whole Plot Reference to the Philip K. Dick novel Ubik, in which this exact question is the Driving Question of a large portion of the book.
- A shout-out not involved in the De-Loused story is “Ilyena”, which is named for Dame Helen Mirren’s birth name (more specifically, Еле́на Ли́дия Васи́льевна Миро́нова or Ilyena Lidiya Vasilievna Mironova) - she’s Cedric’s favourite actress.
- Siamese Twin Songs: Most of the songs on De-Loused and Amputechture. This didn't stop some of them from being released as singles.
- Split Personality: The most common interpretation of Frances the Mute is that the named characters are split personalities of the title character that were created as a coping device after she was raped by priests. At the end of the album she, or her personality Cassandra, kills the priests.I think I've become one of the others...
- Stop and Go: "Ilyena" seems to end suddenly, but then about five seconds later, a creepy ending segment starts that then gets overrun with a ton of noise (seriously, it's almost as though Merzbow remixed it) before fading out properly.
- Subdued Section: Most of their long songs have one. "Cicatriz ESP" and "Frances the Mute" have especially creepy examples.
- Subliminal Seduction: On at least two occasions they've used backmasked vocal samples, though this is more because a recording of a human throat producing vocal sounds no human throat can actually produce in real life is creepy as hell than for any of the usual pop-culture connotations of the trope.
- "Eunuch Provocateur" has backmasked samples of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and other samples from a children's LP the band members used to play.
- "El ciervo vulnerado" has two separate backmasked vocal samples right before it abruptly ends, both from earlier in the song, and used simultaneously. One is also slowed down to half-speed to make things even creepier.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: They have quite a few, such as "The Widow", "Televators", "Vedamalady", "Asilos magdalena", "Tourniquet Man", and probably over half of Octahedron. Often they'll subvert this with a Last Note Nightmare, however.
- Surreal Horror: The band's music is frequently both surreal and terrifying. Their lyrics also often incorporate this.
- Take That!: "Concertina" is rumoured to be a brutal attack on former At the Drive-In member Ben Rodriguez, whom Omar and Cedric are on record as considering to be a sociopath and held as responsible for tormenting Julio Venegas to the point of his suicide.
- Textless Album Cover: Thus far, none of their full-length studio albums have had the band name or album title on the front, although the packaging will typically include a sticker with that information on it. Most of their singles or EPs do have a title and artist name on the front, as does the Live Album Scab Dates.
- Uncommon Time: As they're a Progressive Rock group, appearances of this trope in their work are pretty much mandatory. For example, on The Bedlam in Goliath, "Metatron" (5/4), "Wax Simulacra" (11/8 or [6+ 5]/8), and "Cavalettas" (11/8 or [5+ 6]/8) are a few examples, but there are usually at least a few per album.
- "Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus" from Frances the Mute features a 6/8 intro, a 4/4 main section, a guitar solo and buildup in 29/16, followed by an explosive outro in 10/4.
- "Tetragrammaton" from Amputechture rotates through 11 different time signatures (including two areas with no time signature), and manages to count some uncommon times in multiple ways (one section in 12/8 is counted [5+ 5+ 2/]/8 every first measure and [4+ 4+ 4]/8 every second measure.) A full breakdown can be found here.
- "The Whip Hand" is a subversion. While it certainly seems like it has a very weird time signature, it's really just 4/4 syncopated very oddly.note
- Viewers Are Geniuses: One of the most noteworthy musical examples of the Turn of the Millennium, given the overall complexity of their music, the vast variety of genres they draw from, the Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and obscure cultural references in their lyrics, and so on.
- Widget Series: They're a weird Mexican-American thing.
- Word-Salad Horror: Some of their lyrics veer in this direction. It's arguably the rule with them rather than the exception, honestly. Take "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" for instance."And whoever said that they would scatter
Separating the mother from the child
She can bat a broken eyelid
Raining maggots from its sty
And with the traces that she leaves
She will skin you out alive"
- Word Salad Lyrics: It's very expressive word salad though. Their Spanish lyrics are usually quite a bit less word salad-y.
- Word Salad Title: Their name.
And with every body that I find, and with every Claymore that they mine, I won’t forget who I’m looking for, OH MOTHER HELP ME I’M LOOKING FOR!