Music / The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta was a Progressive Rock band from El Paso, Texas (curently based in Mexico) formed in 2001. Rolling Stone magazine named them the best prog-rock band of 2008.

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 January 25, 2013, the Mars Volta has officially split up. As of April 2014, Rodriguez-López and Bixler-Zavala have formed a new project entitled Antemasque (also featuring former Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea). This hasn't resulted in a reunion of the Mars Volta yet, but Rodriguez-Lopez has indicated that he intends for one to happen; 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).
  • 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

Former members:

  • 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:

  • Album Intro Track: De-Loused in the Comatorium has "Son et lumiere."
  • 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 McCoolname: Try telling anyone the names Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Alfredo Rodríguez-López are dull-sounding.
  • 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 youíre not all assholes - I mean, what the fuck were you thinking? When I go see my favorite band, Iím not gonna throw shit at them. You go do that at, like, 3 Doors Down or fuckiní 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!)
  • 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" translates as "With Soap", and "Asilos magdalena" translates as "Magdalene Asylums". 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Every transition on Frances the Mute except the last one, which uses Siamese Twin Songs instead.
  • Gratuitous French: "Son et lumière" translates as "Sound and Light".
  • 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. 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Portmanteau: At least three album titles bear one, let alone their song names.
  • 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 pretty anti-religious theme to the concept of Frances the Mute 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.
  • 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...
  • Subdued Section: Most of their long songs have one. "Cicatriz ESP" and "Frances the Mute" have especially creepy examples.
  • 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 
  • 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.
    • It's apparently supposed to be indicative of them being something "revolutionary", as per a quote by Federico Fellini where he defines his personal meaning of the world "volta" as a new turn of events. They just added in the "mars" because... well, it sounds cool.

And with every body that I find, and with every Claymore that they mine, I wonít forget who Iím looking for, OH MOTHER HELP ME IíM LOOKING FOR!

Alternative Title(s): Mars Volta