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Faith No More – Sol Invictus


“Do you think when retro gets to the early-’90s that it (funk-metal) will come back? Fuckin’ revisionists probably won’t think its cool enough… they’ll go straight for the flannels and heroin,” said Secret Chiefs 3 mastermind and former session guitarist for Faith No More Trey Spruance in a 2007 interview, two years before Faith No More would first reconvene after 11 years of radio silence.

Retro has gotten to the early-’90s, but it doesn’t really seem to be picking favorites. On the same day Faith No More dropped Reunion Album of the Year (I hope this was at least a working title) Sol Invictus, Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson held a press conference to talk shop about their upcoming co-headlining tour. Almost everything that’s happened in rock music is happening again now, the strength of the nostalgia circuit making it harder than ever for young rock bands to make names for themselves. As trends in contemporary music move further away from rock, it’s incumbent on the vanguard acts to not only line their pockets by trotting out their hits, but to make engaging new music. There may never be another Angel Dust but at least we have Sol Invictus, an album that may not mean a lot for the “cultural landscape” of music, but should mean a lot to Faith No More fans.

Listening to the band’s groovy, streamlined approach to prog-metal on 1989’s The Real Thing, it seems more apparent that the band’s influence was better applied by the other big California bands of the ’90s who followed in their immediate wake: Primus, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, than the ensuing nu-metal onslaught of Korn and Limp Bizkit. The band followed that album up with their magnum opus Angel Dust, heavy metal’s Thriller, a kaleidoscopic collection of songs whose so-called “difficulty” is really just diversity: the fusing of beauty and ugliness, thrash with funk and classical and a more progressive ear toward sampling than any of their hard rock peers. It’s their best album mostly because it’s where the band seems most comfortable exploring the different aspects of their sound within the same song.

The next album, 1995’s fan favorite but critically panned King for a Day . . . Fool for a Lifetime found the group largely segregating their heavy and mellow/exploratory aspects. They mostly stuck to this approach on the maudlin Album of the Year before calling it quits in 1998.

For years, a reunion seemed like an impossibility. Prolific and multi-talented vocalist Mike Patton seemed wholly disinterested in the prospect in interviews, his only real gesture toward the band being a spitball take on “Malpractice” he did with The Dillinger Escape Planin 2002. But, sure enough, in 2009, there they were, on stage playing some of Europe’s biggest festivals, opening their sets with a winking cover of Peaches & Herb’s soft R&B standard “Reunited.”

Their entire reunion set at 2009’s Download fest is actually available on YouTube in decent quality, so if you’re interested, take a look. For what it’s worth, Patton does a little rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as well.

The group spent the next few years playing more high-profile shows, mostly in Europe and South America, while the clamor for a full stateside tour only grew, before seemingly shutting it down for good again in 2012. Thankfully, this has turned out not to be the case, with Sol Invictus and a sold-out American tour signifying the return of Faith No More as a fully-operational creative enterprise. While the album feels 100% of Faith No More, it maintains their tradition of largely eschewing the past, and the record may bear the dubious honor of disappointing several different segments of the band’s fanbase who (foolishly) expected something more familiar.

On Invictus, the group favors moody slow-burners that may bear a slight resemblance to past tracks like “King for a Day”, “Stripsearch,” and “Paths of Glory,” but largely stake new ground within the Faith No More oeuvre. Take the somber title track, a piano and snare driven piece that’s decidedly less energetic than any of the band’s previous opening cuts. “Matador” and album centerpiece “Cone of Shame” both start out similarly quiet with Morricone-esque guitar lines and atmospheric croons before building up to raucous finales. “Cone of Shame” sees Patton in peak form, his raw-throated screams of “I’d like to strip the bone off / So I can see how you’re really made” being the moment of maximum intensity on an album that mostly avoids straightforward bangers. It’s a track worth the eighteen-year wait, and slots among the band’s finest tunes.

The irrepressible rhythm section of Billy Gould and Mike Bordin take over on the pensive “Separation Anxiety,” Jon Hudson’s acoustic guitar and handclaps punctuate “Black Friday,” while Patton dusts off his melodica for the crazy-catchy “Rise of the Fall.” Keyboardist Roddy Bottum’s work is more prominent here than any album since “Angel Dust,” and his rich prog-inspired color shadings are always a treat. He evens take the mic for the verses of repetitive first single “Motherfucker,” an odd choice for an introductory taste of the record and the weakest thing here. But considering the band did Invictus completely “in house” and released it through the band’s own Reclamation Records imprint, “Motherfucker” may have been chosen more as a teaser than as a truly representative track. Follow-up single “Superhero” fits the bill more appropriately as it’s the most direct hard rock track on the album, sounding a little something like the smash hit record execs probably hoped to hear on Angel Dust.

Running just under 40 minutes, Sol Invictus further differentiates itself from other Patton-era FNM albums by its concise length. But the record doesn’t feel too brief, the folky strumming of “From the Dead” brings things to a fitting conclusion. “We’ve been turning mysteries to nursery rhymes / Sigils and more signs,” Patton sings triumphantly toward the end of the song. It’s a great parallel for how the band operates, and why they’ve been so successful. For all their perceived oddities and genre-bending, Faith No More have always turned their diverse influences and explorations into indelible songs, like the soul-tinged “Sunny Side Up.” Pinning Faith No More down to a single genre has always been a fool’s errand, since they play soft rock, funk, film themes, and pop covers with every bit as much conviction as they do with hard rock and metal. On Sol Invictus, Faith No More go back to work as if they’ve never left, crafting the kinds of songs that only they can. Welcome home, my friend.

—Jason Bailey

Sol Invictus is out now via the band’s on Reclamation Records. Follow Faith No More on Facebook or on Twitter at @FaithNoMore.

Also, here’s the band’s entire pro-shot concert at Detroit’s Fillmore, with original singer Chuck Mosley making a guest appearance at the finale.

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