Faith No More
18th May 2015 - Ipecac Recordings
01. Sol Invictus
03. Sunny Side Up
04. Separation Anxiety
05. Cone of Shame
06. Rise of the Fall
07. Black Friday
10. From the Dead
So here it is. For a considerable period of time after Faith No More‘s practically inevitable demise in 1998, all those involved were adamant that there would be no encore. Faith No More was dead – but clearly time heals all wounds. After a triumphant return to the live arena, gracing festivals and selected venues around the world with Greatest Hits sets, the band felt that the hatchet had been buried deep enough to start writing together again. The result is Sol Invictus.
For long-standing fans of the band – like the one sat not a million miles from this keyboard – Faith No More occupy a very special place in metal’s pantheon. Depending on your perspective, they have been both praised and damned for being a critical influence on the explosion of nu-metal in the mid-nineties. But either way, they were at the vanguard of the alt-metal movement which, alongside grunge, gave the kids of the early nineties a new path to tread, away from the glam and thrash of the eighties.
So those long-standing fans are likely to approach Sol Invictus with a heady combination of anticipation and trepidation. It’s been eighteen years since Faith No More released Album of the Year. Although the band have all, to greater or lesser extents, continued to make music in the interm, can they really have kept their powder dry for all that time? Or is Sol Invictus a damp squib?
We were not necessarily given encouragement that all would be well by the left-field choice to release “Motherfucker” as the first new track from the album, on Record Store Day in November 2014. As a somewhat maddening track that never seems to really get going, yet still possesses a curiously infectious and earworm-friendly hook, it now transpires to be a deliberate curveball by a band who have always delighted in slightly wrong-footing the public.
Because, taken in its entirety, the most surprising thing about Sol Invictus is not how much has changed since Album of the Year, but how much has stayed the same. By the time of their original demise, the Faith No More sound had already evolved from the slightly bratty enfant terrible schtick that brought them to prominence, and Sol Invictus is a comfortable extention of that. Whilst the passage of time is still obvious to a degree, it doesn’t feel like it has been the thick end of two decades at all.
All of the elements that made the Faith No More sound so distinctive are present and correct – from Mike Bordin’s tribalesque drumming, through Billy Gould’s urgent basslines sitting high in the mix, to Roddy Bottum’s swooping keyboard lines. One of Faith No More’s more unusual quirks, that for a metal band the guitars are rather less important, is still in effect as well, but Jon Hudson’s parts are tastefully understated.
Tracks like “Superhero” and the outstanding “Separation Anxiety” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on King For A Day…Fool For A Lifetime, and flavours of Mike Patton’s hyper-prolific post-FNM career, particularly with Tomahawk (see “Cone of Shame” for the most obvious example), also bleed through as the album progresses through it’s ten varied tracks.
Away from the more straightforward tracks, there are some very pleasant little surprises, like the slight reggae bounce given to “Rise of the Fall”, the slightly countrified “Black Friday” or the broad, epic sweeps of “Matador”. Faith No More albums have always been characterised by their diversity, so it’s a particular delight to see that has not been lost.
Sol Invictus is an undoubtedly mature collection of rock songs from one of the most collectively talented bands of modern history. There’s no denying that the decision to start writing music again was a slightly risky one, but it is a risk that has paid off handsomely. Sol Invictus is not a completely immediate album, but repeated listens reveal its quality, and in the context of the full forty minute duration, even “Motherfucker” makes sense in its place.
Long-term fans can breathe a sigh of relief, as Sol Invictus builds upon Faith No More’s illustrious heritage, rather than undermining it – and for newcomers to the Faith No More party, it will serve as an ideal introduction to the aural feast that awaits in their back catalogue. Welcome back, Faith No More, we’ve missed you.