The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute
Dec 27, 2019 (updated Jan 12, 2020)
After the display of insanity and hardcore progressive rock The Mars Volta brought to the table on Deloused In The Comatorium, The Mars Volta take a complete left turn and go batshit insane on their second album, Frances The Mute. This is essentially their debut on cocaine. They still hold the same energy and wild prog rock sound they had on their debut but this time the sound is completely different. The more melodic sound of Deloused is swapped in exchange for incredible genre-blending, a larger focus on progressive rock and way longer songs. They throw latin influences, free jazz and a lot of more ambient sections into the mix... and then they just f r e a k i n g g o o f f.

There's a lot going on here. And at first, it feels like there's too much going on. Just 50 seconds into the album, you're being bombarded with information and chaos, all at a speed and pacing that will pretty much make you dizzy immediately. And it's definitely conflicting. The instrumentation is off the wall and insane, you've got stuff going on everywhere, and Cedric's loud vocals just control the whole chaos and even join it most of the time. But it's definitely an album where all the best details start to flourish over time, and it becomes a whole lot easier to bare it over time. Tracks like Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus throw you into a frenzy for the first 4 minutes and basically say, "SCREW YOU, THIS IS FRANCES THE MUTE GODDAMN IT!" So you better buckle in, cause the ride isn't over for another 76 minutes.

The track Cassandra Gemini has so much going on it's essentially impossible to comprehend. But the song itself is absolutely incredible. The sudden transition from the calm Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore to Cassandra Gemini is off-putting at first but then it's like, "OH, SHIT! IT'S HAPPENING, JESUS CHRIST!" It comes out of nowhere but wow those first few moments just get you ready for the pure insanity, even if those first few moments ARE pure insanity. The robotic spoken word is eerie and helps provide some gruesome details into the album's story. Then once it gets to the full song, it transitions into one of the most exhilarating and powerful sounding choruses I've ever heard in a song like this. Oh, and there's a whole load of free jazz in it too. It's a wild track. And most of the full 32 minute track is like this too, the hardcore sound is apparent throughout many elements of the song in parts like Tarantism, Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream, Con Safo and the track that brings the whole track full circle repeating the incredible chorus from the beginning, Multiple Spouse Wounds.

But even with all that, that isn't to say there aren't any calmer spots to help recover from all the wild energy of the song. Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore is more relaxed and less energetic with more ambient spots, but the eerie sound fits perfectly in with the album. Cedric's vocals are very eerie sounding and the instrumentation is calm and beautiful... and it's just 13 minutes of peacefulness and- OH CRAP, CASSANDRA GEMINI'S ON!

The more ambient track Pisacis (Phra-men-ma) is also a nice addition to Cassandra Gemini and lets you breathe for a bit.

The Widow is a good mixture between the loud and calmer elements of the album, making it one of my favourites on the album. It's easily the most mainstream friendly song of the album, seeing as it was a single and it charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #95, but that's not to say it's no less wild than the rest of the album. The album version ends with this 2 minute droning ambient passage that seems pretty random, but transitions well into L'Via L'Viaquez, another one of my favourites on the album. It further proves the insane genre-blending on the album and infuses Latin elements into the album, which does make sense seeing as Omar and Cedric are both Spanish. I absolutely love the yin and yang between the more exhilarating and chilled out moments of the track. The more extreme sections with incredible vocal performances from Cedric and a more rock based sound are great, but when it transitions into the more chilled out and traditional Latin section, it serves as a great contrast and provides a nice break from the louder spots on the track. Cedric's eerie and whisper-y vocals are really good too and the lyrics are dark but provide more context to the story.

More genre blending's present in Con Safo, as once it starts after Pisacis it shows a lot of elements of free jazz, and the buildup is exciting and keeps you on your toes for how the 32 minute track's gonna end. And it ends... with disappointment. Okay, but before I continue, not MY disappointment. The main character, Cygnus's disappointment. He finds out his mother, the one he was trying to find this whole time who he had never gotten to see, was dead this whole time and Cygnus had contributed to her death the entire time. "WhaaaaaaAAAAAAA?" says you, reading this. If I explained the story this review would be 3 times as long as it already is, so just read this post on the Mars Volta subreddit that essentially covers the whole story, or what it might be.

And that's Frances The Mute for you. A dark story about a crap load of things that will take too long to explain, behind some of the most exhilarating, incredible and all around wild instrumentation I've ever heard, topped with a lot of genre-blending and some wild vocals. It may seem like a mess at first but overtime every detail just made this album so much better for me. And yes, I guess the insane sound of it won't click with everybody, which makes total sense. Personally though, I loved it. It's an experience like no other, and possibly The Mars Volta's best album yet. Unless their soon-to-come reunion somehow completely tops this.

favourite tracks: Cassandra Gemini, Multiple Spouse Wounds, The Widow, Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream, L'Via L'Viaquez, Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus, Tarantism, Con Safo, Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore, Faminepulse
least favourite: Sarcophagi... I guess?


Edit: The big triple digits. It's just that great. Every song just has this in your face energy that appeals to me, and I've had it on repeat endlessly ever since I released this review. Even Cassandra Gemini, a 32 MINUTE song, is something I'd come back to all the time cause it doesn't even feel that long. What an experience.

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