It should have been a disaster. With a weight of expectation that was impossible to ignore, how could a new Faith No More album possibly live up to the lofty heights of the classic albums ‘Angel Dust’ and ‘King for a day… Fool for a lifetime’? On top of that, there’s the simple fact that Faith no more spectacularly failed to deliver a bad album, ever. ‘The real thing’ and ‘album of the year’, hell, even, ‘introduce yourself’ with Chuck Mosely, they’re all great albums and a mighty legacy to start messing with some eighteen years after the fact. Yet, despite the expectation and the gathering excitement that followed the announcement that a record would be coming, Faith No More seemed to feel no pressure. A band of consummate musicians, all of whom have their own various projects, there really should never have been any doubt that the quality control would be high and the result of their labours, the stunning ‘Sol Invictus’ is a remarkable, slow-burning gem of a record that takes its time to sink its scaly hooks into your brain but, once there, they are all but impossible to remove. For sure ‘Sol Invictus’ does not eclipse the band’s earlier work, how could it? But in making a record that easily lives up to, and continues, the band’s unblemished sonic legacy, Faith No More have once again demonstrated exactly why they are so revered.
Opening on a quiet, almost introspective note, you’d be forgiven for initially thinking the fire had left Faith no more’s world. Indeed, the closest relative to the title track would be Nick Cave and Mike Patton adopts a rich baritone throughout. The track builds wonderfully, John Hudson (returning from the ‘album of the year’ line up) working his understated magic whilst Mike ‘Puffy’ Bordin puts down his oh-so-familiar percussion and keyboardist Roddy Bottum piles layer-upon-layer of shimmering synth into the mix. It’s a brilliant album opener, an atmospheric and memorable piece that suddenly gives way to the epic roar of ‘superhero’, a bona-fide Faith no more classic that sees the band in full-on rock mode, drawing upon the schizophrenic brutality of ‘King for a day…’ as a loose template, although, this being Faith no more, it’s no carbon copy, but rather an evolution of that much-vaunted sound. With its layered screams, huge riffs, exquisite pop chorus and bizarre lyrical themes, it’s tempting to think of ‘Superhero’ as a highlight, but although it initially stands out, this album is cleverer than that, and it’s the ones you don’t notice at first that really stick with you. Remaining predictably unpredictable, ‘Sunny side up’ is a soul-pop-rock beast that perfectly exemplifies the way that Faith no more have the ability to write tunes that initially seem implausible and yet which coalesce into memorable, and often exciting pieces, that you’ll want to play over and again at any opportunity. Next up is the dark, paranoid ‘separation anxiety’ which enters on a cyclical riff underpinned by Roddy’s best ‘fairground in hell’ synth line. Of course, as good as the music is, it is impossible to ignore the jabbering, roaring, whispered and screamed vocals of Mike Patton. There is no singer on this planet as versatile, as interesting, as unequivocally committed to treating music as an art form as Mike Patton, and his performance here is typically sublime as he utilizes his wide range to inhabit each and every song. His versatility is what makes Faith no more so special and few vocalists could move from a slinky, lounge croon to a death metal roar at the flick of a switch in the way that Mike can. It’s invariably astounding and the fact that Faith No More comprises musicians capable of matching a singer with such a dizzying range is nothing short of miraculous. Side A concludes with the understated ‘cone of shame’, a piece that feels like ‘Caffeine’ filtered through ‘ashes to ashes’ and about a thousand miles of desert between the band and the nearest civilisation as Mike roars “I’d like to pull your skin off…” It’s unnerving, much as ‘jizzlobber’ was unnerving, but it’s also indisputably exciting and a stern reminder that Faith No More, when on form, are one of the most exciting, innovative and downright imaginative bands out there.
Side B kicks off with ‘rise of the fall’, a track which initially promises to be a metallic melt-down only for everything to slide sideways as John Hudson practices his acoustic picking technique over a track that has more in common with Calypso music than Cannibal Corpse. Of course, this being Faith no more, it can’t last and the band soon unleash a typically blistering chorus. ‘Black Friday’ is the sort of twisted pop that Faith no more do so well with acoustic guitars and handclaps juxtaposed with a massive surging riff that threatens to sweep the unwary away. ‘Motherfucker’ was a song that, in isolation, I didn’t fully get. However in the context of the album, the dark, hypnotic beat and dirty rap that fuels the song proves to be a potent brew indeed, recalling latter day Butthole surfers, and, as has more recently been proved, it is the perfect choice for set opener with its tribal feel and vocals split between Roddy and Mike. Opening with piano and woozy vocals, ‘Matador’ eschews the confrontational nature its title might suggests and instead operates in that unique area of psychedelia that Faith No More are able to tap into, paradoxically allowing Billy Gould to unleash the sort of funky bass line that’s not really been heard since ‘the real thing’. All too soon, the album spins to a close with the aptly titled ‘From the dead’, a strangely whimsical closer complete with acoustic guitar and loose drum tattoo that perfectly closes the album simply by virtue of being the sort of track you’d least expect to close the album.
To my mind Faith no more are one of the best bands to have emerged from the alt rock scene. Part of the reason Faith no more are a band to treasure is that, whilst the music may be zany, the idiosyncrasies never feel forced, rather they feel like a natural extension of the very different personalities behind the musicians that make up the band. Their diversity is their strength and yet, despite all the weirdness that abounds, faith no more have always known how to rock too, and so, whilst you may find Mike crooning ‘easy’ sweetly in your ear, there’s never a ‘gentle art of making enemies’ or an ‘ashes to ashes’ too far away. It’s schizophrenic, for sure, but it’s also exactly what music should be – a multi-faceted, multi-layered entity that is never afraid to approach any influence which the musicians may have taken on board. ‘Sol invictus’ does not surpass Faith no more’s classic albums, but rather it can stand head and shoulders amongst them and that alone is a magnificent achievement. The album is short (just shy of forty minutes), the quality control high and I spent most of my first few listens too lost in the music with a massive grin on my face to even think about writing a review. Faith no more are a band who continue to surprise and excel and their return could not come soon enough – let’s hope they keep it together (Puffy – start nothing!) because with ‘sol invictus’ faith no more have demonstrated that they can not only keep up with past glories, but that they are also a more than relevant force in today’s increasingly unstable musical climate.