Faith No More ‘Sol Invictus’ Review: Alternative rock iconoclasts return proudly unbowed.
To say Faith No More’s comeback album Sol Invictus is highly anticipated is an understatement. It’s their first album in nearly two decades. To put that into perspective, their previous release (1997’s Album of the Year) came out when people still used beepers, and you had to use your phone line to get on the internet.
But it’s not just the gap between releases that brings such a groundswell of enthusiasm: it’s a small miracle that Sol Invictus exists at all. While the band reunited back in 2009, they’ve seemed reluctant to attempt new material. But when drummer Mike Bordin and bassist Billy Gould finally got the creative itch in 2014, the wheels were set in motion.
It’s a safe bet that the lack of record label pressure (the album is released on the band’s own label Reclamation Records) helped to seal the deal, with nothing left to prove except to fulfill their musical vision.
And that’s the immediate takeaway upon hearing Sol Invictus. There is no kowtowing to current musical trends, or attempts to ride a wave of nostalgia. It’s simply the next, logical evolution in their musical journey.
All earlier FNM albums have kicked off with seismically heavy numbers. But the self-titled opener is a restrained and solemn composition. Opening with martial drums and bluesy piano, vocalist Mike Patton gives lyrics fitting for the band’s moniker: Worshipping at the altar of no one, can’t remember which God is my one…Where’s my faith, my blasphemy? It’s a haunting piece of gothic melodrama.
The previously released singles for the album showcase two of the band’s most defining traits: Superhero mixes Patton’s bellicose croon and shredded shrieks, anchored by a cinematic piano and monolithic guitars.
Mother****er, however sounds like a musical in-joke designed to confound expectations and gleefully ward away signs of growing soft. And keyboardist Roddy Bottum’s gruff spoken verse is also a sly nod to their rap-rock past, retrofitted for the 21st century.
But it’s the deep cuts that offer the most satisfaction, of which the aggressive Separation Anxiety is a prime example: the rhythm section forms a tightly knotted churn with Patton careening from ghostly whispers to demented screams with graceful ease.
The band delve into their 70’s soul influence with the funk inflected breakfast ode Sunny Side Up, but its silky groove proves deceptive when it makes a transition to guitarist Jon Hudson’s jack hammer riffing and Patton’s unholy howl.
The rollicking Black Friday, features Patton lamenting on our consumerist culture with his absurdist wit, erupting into a cathartic chorus: BUY IT!!!!
While the album flits between genres as is the band’s wont, there’s a decidedly Spaghetti Western influence on several tracks, including Cone of Shame, which will surely go down in history as the darkest song to ever reference a Pixar film.
Starting in a sea of reverb, skeletal guitar and strident percussion create a thick atmosphere of dread, going from a slow ominous intro into a Sabbath worthy chorus. Patton’s cryptic lyrics conjure images from either a wild west duel or a passive aggressive friendship: Town is quiet now/Like its holding its breath/Stone marks the spot/You know who you are…You’re only happy when you’re pissing me off!
The album’s most sprawling track, Matador, is also the most ambitious, with a Spanish flavored melody ebbing and flowing, and offering a fine operatic showcase for Patton’s six-octave range, undulled by age or wear. Bottum’s stately piano work is also a highlight.
The production on Sol Invictus is more straightforward than the wide-screen ear candy of past efforts like Angel Dust. At times it strains to contain the bombast during its heaviest moments, but shines during the more subdued passages.
So how does it measure up to Faith No More’s past efforts? Think of it as catching up with an old friend that you haven’t seen for 18 years. It takes a few moments for the butterflies to settle, to take stock, and then pick up right where you left off.
Sol Invictus is an album that rewards repeat listens. Once the knotted arrangements have time to settle into your musical subconscious, you’ll hum and bang your head in equal measure.
The final track From The Dead sums it up perfectly. Patton croons: Welcome home my friend…Back from the dead. It sounds as if they’ve never left. Welcome home indeed.
You can order Faith No More’s ‘Sol Invictus’ from Amazon and iTunes via the links below:
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