The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute
Jan 21, 2023
250 followers! Hell yeah!

I never thought my return from my hiatus in July 2022 would lead to such instantaneous growth in my following. It's simply unbelievable to me. My follower count increased by roughly 500% in three months. That's huge to me. Thank you all for your support! (And I also want to give special thanks to a specific group of people that got me out of my shell and into this beautiful and equally garbage community. You know who you are)

So, with that out of the way, here is my special. A review that I have been putting off for months because of how beyond description it truly is. I will try, haha.

---๐•‹โ„๐”ผ ๐•„๐”ธโ„๐•Š ๐•๐•†๐•ƒ๐•‹๐”ธ - ๐•ฑ๐•ฝ๐•ฌ๐•น๐•ฎ๐•ฐ๐•พ ๐•ฟ๐•ณ๐•ฐ ๐•ธ๐–€๐•ฟ๐•ฐ (๐Ÿš๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ)---

What a little universe The Mars Volta created with Frances the Mute. A dark, demented, surreal, psychedelic universe is full of dystopia. I suppose that could be an accurate description for anyone interested in sinking into this primordial experience. Can Frances the Mute go as far as being the musical key that is equivalent to fully mastering the legendary Noble Eightfold Path?

Thinking this, saying that probably has the equivalent level of understandability as ranting over glass-eating icicle orifices. I think I made the mistake of attempting to enunciate this record's stylistic and conceptual scope. One that may be impossible to put into words because, holy fucking shit, this album is truly something else. Not only do I have to have a tissue box (maybe four) on standby every time I explain this record, but I also have to have the most pretentious of thesauruses with me. The adjectives I will need to use to sufficiently explain my opinion on this will likely have to be the most pinpoint accurate and hyperbolic ones for me to communicate to my audience. I could also just be basic and slap a "peak music" label on this record. But not only am I much more than boiling galactic experiences down to pigeonholes but this album may or may not make the "peak music" moniker look like the topographical makeup of the fucking Netherlands.

I feel trapped in a tiny corner when I approach Frances, particularly with the opener, Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus. I feel like a hapless rat stumbling into a bizarro-world French cathedral whenever I take a ride into the first track, which starts with a helplessly burning silk quilt named Sarcophagi, a piece that pitifully attempts to conceal the impending firestorm of Umbilical Syllables. Piercing through your ears, it takes you by the throat with an iron-fist grip. Furious multi-layered riffs, jittery drumming, ethereal chants, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala wading through the warzone with operatic Latino screams. Personified as an orphan raised in the Catholic Church, Vismund Cygnus frantically searches for his missing parents after discovering a troubling lead in an abandoned car. The drug dealer hunts fervently for his old Frances, with little to trust of any mending of the outside world (based on his instincts). Repeatedly, everything rushes and converges into a disorienting rush of pain; Zavala gives you an expired painkiller for compensation. It leaves an effect that only adds to the utter chaos. But he will hunt for his lineage, who will show them what he means. After three minutes of a brutal mix of black midi, Nirvana, and Queen, the piece slowly screeches to a halt, like a train on emergency brakes, into an airy and minimal guitar and drum duet. But as effortless and as director of a clinical metamorphosis as this change is, it is still nothing to prepare for the second eruption into another sonic battlefield full of murderous rage. Once again, the arrangements layer over each other, but this time it is also coupled into razor-sharp complementation of wailing string sections and Zavala's screams that echo into the abyss of the next movement, Con Safo. This smaller comedown is even more disorienting than the last, with the arrangements slowly plaguing the mix with a field recording of a playground and uncomfortably bewitching synths flowing in and out of the mix. Capping off with this piece, Cygnus is an experience so maximalist and overarching I would consider it to be an appropriate soundtrack to having a fucking panic attack. As usual, I mean these metaphors in the best way possible. I love how euphoric and noisy this suite is and how it all flows together in such a concise and complementary way. Despite the 13-minute runtime, this track's (as well as the others') structure is so watertight and consistently aggressive it almost seems impossible that these ridiculous factors play into each other so perfectly.

What's more, not only is this song far from being the longest on the album, but I wouldn't even consider it to be as well-executed as the other tracks here. Not to downplay the quality of this incredible track, but it's just that the other ones from here on out get even better than the last; it is a constant improvement from the first to the final seconds of this record. Cygnus is explosive and emotionally volatile, yet we are nowhere near the peak of sonic ecstasy on this record thus far, despite its perfect start.

The two cuts afterward are more singular in structure, meaning that these songs are not suites but their own piece with their central idea. The first is The Widow, which is by far the shortest song on the record at a minute six minutes, but its significance is still just as applicable as the other four tracks on here. The Widow is also one of the more straightforward and pop-centric songs they have written in their career. I'll also add that the uniqueness they make part of their sound, as it is clearly Latin-influenced but also combines that with what I think is the shape of prog to come. This album is some of the most advanced, concise, and explosive prog rock to ever graze history's ears. And the more compact moments on this album do not give way to failure in achieving technical supremacy. The prime example that I will explain is The Widow, a real dwarf in the midst of giants. But don't forget that this little thing also wields Big fucking Bertha. The spacey and melancholy verses set up the massive hooks perfectly every time, which reads like a slow-burn Latin Rock vibe from the 70s mixed with Sunn (O))). The acoustic guitar in the background and these anthemic drums add to the crushing experience. Oh yeah, did I forget that Flea (yes, THAT Flea) has a goddamn TRUMPET SOLO in this song? This song is in memory of Jeremy Ward, the eccentric "sound manipulator" that helped produce The Mars Volta's debut record, "De-Loused in the Comatorium." Unfortunately, a month before that album's release in 2003, Ward overdosed on heroin and passed away. The lyrics relate to it quite hard, referencing freedom, black lungs, and spiritual guidance.

The song eventually melts away into a drone sequence that segues into the third track on the record. L'via L'Viaquez is easily the most straightforward song on the album, but it is also by far the most badass. The cascading riffs complementing Zavala's chaotic vocals are a total fucking RAGER. But still, this track does not let up in its endless amounts of swagger. But that is only half of the song in explanation. Between the pockets of these insane pieces is a nocturnal and organic hellscape with Zavala merely whispering gruesome images of bodies, claymores, and bondage in English. It is the type of juxtaposition that is so obvious but still works just as well in the context of the record. You know, it is one of the fucking weirdest experiments to come out of the rock scene. It's almost a mirror image between this album and the industry: what it wants Frances The Mute to be versus what it actually is.

But back to this track, specifically the lyrics. In the rock phases, the Spanish lyrics read from the perspective of Vismund Cygnus assessing his aunt, L'Via L'Viaquez, searching for answers about his missing mother, and discovering that his mother's captors are out for Cygnus' blood due to his search. And along the way, Cygnus finds more evidence leading to disappearances and murder, possibly by the same offenders that took his mother. And that those murders were committed by the Catholic Church, as referenced in this line here, in verse three:

"Tomé la sangre, comí el cuerpo" ("I drank the blood, I ate the body")

This lyric ties into the Catholic Mass of drinking Jesus' blood (wine) and eating Jesus' body (bread), possibly tying these gruesome acts with the Church. The third verse, in my mind, is sung from the Church's perspective. But nothing here is as creepy as the sonic passages of the next track, "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore."

The fourth track on this record starts with a four-minute drone and field recording of frogs in Puerto Rico, guiding the listener to the slowest (and most culturally referential, in terms of sound) song on the album. According to Genius, This song is essentially about "Miranda, the grandmother of Cygnus. The issue is that Miranda wants to tell Cygnus the truth about Frances' death, but she is afraid of the Church and does not approve of him being a drug dealer."
This track is eerily chilling with a nocturnal hook that is absolutely nightmarish.

But these bits and pieces all lead up to the main event. A track that is by design an impenetrable wall of dysmorphia and viscera towers over this entire record, taking up nearly half of the album in runtime: 32:32, Cassandra Gemini.

The first part of this suite begins with a David Lynchian sex scene. This suite is a culmination of everything explored in the previous four tracks. Cover-ups, fear, and violence in scripture are the first verse's continuation of the narrative of making a revenge story real. The first (of many) hook on this suite foreshadows what is to come.

...No, there's no light. In the darkest of your furthest reaches...

The second movement, "Faminepulse," is more lengthy, not as compact, and much more panoramic in contrast. It is harder to describe instrumentally what this suite does because it is so heavily dominated by the narrative that the lyrics speak for the instrumentals quite to a tee on this suite, which I find to be an impressive feat, especially for a piece as large as this one. The narrative boils down to the grand entrance of Cygnus, a survived abortion born from out of the abuse of Frances, as a vengeful and deformed, heroin-filled monster hellbent on bringing massacre to the Church, who killed his mother. Around the 15:00 mark, the song slows down, letting Zavala narrate the story before it goes into an ambient soundscape with minimal cymbals, tiny guitar pickings, and Zavala whispers. At near the 18:30 mark, it picks up again with an organ/drum duet that is so intense it nearly gives me a panic attack every time before settling down once again, leading into the penultimate movement on this album, Multiple Spouse Wounds, which essentially serves as the climax of the narrative. The start of this part is the quietest passage on the album. This ambient soundscape dominates a chunk of the second half of the second third of the suite. This part is soothing and satisfying, incrementally building into the most chaotic moment on the record. The reprise of the first hook on the first part of the suite enters once again in the final leg of the piece and renders Cygnus' rampage and eventual heroin overdose as obsolete and without resolution.

I suppose revenge isn't the wisest decision to make in light of a tragic event, no matter how infuriating and inexcusable such an act could be.

But my fucking god. I love this album so much. It is rich in sound and lyricism and does not let up at all in its intensity and euphoria. It's an unforgettable 76 minutes packed with enough LORE to fill a Netflix special series and a half. If Nine Inch Nails' "The Fragile" was an album for my mental health and comfort, then "Frances the Mute" is the next best thing, my introduction to new music. I first listened to this album back last September, which considering other albums with a personally perfect score, is not a lot of time at all. It is one of the most entertaining pieces of music I have ever encountered. And I guess this album's existence is ironically the biggest fault of "De-Loused," because that album did absolutely nothing for me in preparation for this fucking beast of a record. I will never forget this album. It's everything that music should be. It's an achievement that every rock band wishes to achieve. It's a litmus test for any narrative-centric album for quality and impact. Frances the Mute is an album everyone says is absolutely showstopping and one that you're too scared to check out.

Favorite Tracks: Every. Fucking. Second.
Least Favorite Track: Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore. Why? Well, It's because the fucking frog samples is just a stupid-ass Grateful Dead reference and does not tie into the narrative. Like, what the fuck were you thinking, Mr. Volta? Fuck you.

@OZYMVNDIAS Man, you did not need to diss De-Loused like that ๐Ÿ˜ข
Congrats on 250!! This is an amazing review for the occasion, your love for this album really comes through in your writing
@artyomin still a classic though
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