The last time Faith No More released a new studio album (which was Album Of The Year in 1997, by the way), I was eighteen years old – it was literally half my lifetime ago. While it wasn’t the band’s best album (critics complained that the proliferation of side projects the band’s members were contributing to at the time sapped some of the power away from it), Album Of The Year was respectably received and it was for that reason fans were surprised when the group went on hiatus shortly after the tour cycles for the album were complete. They reconvened a couple of times after that (the first was in 2009), but most of the time together seemed to be to fill touring obligations everywhere but in North America. It was a little frustrating for fans and, eventually, hopes for new material receded completely; after a while, it felt like hoping for something was just a fool’s errand.
It’s for that reason fans were genuinely shocked when Mike Patton hinted that new music was coming from the band on twitter; no one could believe it first and then, when they could, they had no idea what to expect. Fans waited with bated breath anyway, if only to see how soft the results of the band’s return might be; Faith No More had been great in their prime, but the prospect of restarting the engines could either amount to a re-enactment of something great, or a total farce – there was no consideration given that whatever may come could fall halfway between those two poles.
As the album title suggests (“Sol Invictus” is latin for “Unconquered Sun”), the breaking of Faith No More’s new day is gradual and the album’s title track upholds that implication. There, Roddy Bottum and Mike Bordin march an almost funerary rhythm out as singer Mike Patton exercises the lower reaches of his vocal register. The moving is slow and methodical and quietly asserts that, whatever may come, it’s going to work its way up from the bottom. Billy Gould’s bass and Jon Hudson’s guitar both gradually factor into the mix, but never reach any of the spectacular levels that fans may remember from the band’s glory days; everything about this new beginning is dramatic, but also reserved – and will hold listeners captivated as they wait to see how and when it’s going to break through or explode. “Superhero” continues to hold the line set by “Sol Invictus” and builds a little more to an ever-so-slightly wracked pitch, but the band STILL doesn’t give in to the urge to turn up the volume and start melting faces, which will make listeners start to ache.
It’s with “Separation Anxiety” that the resolve really comes and, while the band doesn’t explode to “Epic” proportions, it feels orgasmic and will have those fans who have waited so long for new music just melting as the song plays. There, everything fans loved about Faith No More in their glory days returns so completely and faithfully that some who don’t know could assume the band never left; Patton chants the title refrain in a dramatic stage whisper and, combined with Hudson’s guitar, stirs up a frenzy to which all the other band members also add their own colors before presenting it fully formed for listeners to indulge. It’s monstrous and brilliantly over-the-top as Faith No More has always been at their best, and they do it all without conceding any age; it might have been almost two decades since Faith No More released a new album, but anyone who hears this will agree that the early playing of Sol Invictus finds the band in the shape of their lives.
With the beginning piqueing interest immediately, Faith No More earnestly keeps the train rolling as they roll on and inflect some more career-long traditions into Sol Invictus as it progresses. The band boldly tests and mixes some new sounds like ska and reggae and Spaghetti Western country into “Rise Of The Fall” and “Black Friday” respectively, while “Matador” stretches the drama and operatic impressions which have manifested occasionally in Faith No More’s music into a six-minute monster, and listeners will find that, while perhaps unexpected, nothing really feels out-of-place or unwanted when those things appear.
Even the tongue-in-cheek rocker “Motherfucker” feels like fun; there, the members of Faith No More co-opt the clichés that they developed themselves on The Real Thing and strip them down in an almost parodic way and couple that with some really biting and satirical lyrics (the words which introduce the song are the best: “Force-fed more than we’d eat in the wild/ Grazed on a mash that could suffocate a child/ Bloated, promoted in an ode to pomp and style/ Moistening the feed while we choke upon the bile,” and the rhythm and melody sort of echo or answer “Epic”) which really sells the point that Faith No More has returned whole.
After “From The Dead” makes a nod in the general direction of classic rock, Faith No More puts the shutters on Sol Invictus and leaves listeners to decide what they’ve just experienced – whether they loved it or loathed it. While I can’t speak for everyone, this critic is thrilled at what the band has done on their seventh album; rather than jumping for some cheap brass ring and making some two-dimensional retro wet dream, Faith No More has picked up PRECISELY where they left off almost twenty years ago and continued to truly and honestly follow their muse. That they’ve been able to pull it off so well is unbelievable (other artists have tried and failed abysmally), and the success that this album represents will have those who hear it begging for more.
Faith No More – Sol Invictus – “Motherfucker” – [mp3]