Faith No More
5/22/2015 - Review by: Greg Watson
Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines resurgence as "a rising again into life, activity or prominence".
With Sol Invictus, Faith No More will definitely experience a resurgence in their popularity. The first album from the band in over 17 years, "Sol Invictus" delivers a different sounding FNM but one that still possesses that bite and charm that made them the 90's dark horse darlings and mainstays despite their relative absence for such an extended period of time. When I heard there was a new FNM album coming this year, I was salivating like a lion about to pounce on a meaty gazelle. When I finally got my hands on "Sol Invictus", I tore into the album with a slight sense of trepidation. I hadn't heard any new material from the band in so long, I wasn't sure what I was going to get with the new album.
After numerous listens, I have to say that for me, "Sol Invictus" shows a real growth in the band and while the material may not be as heavy as the older era albums, it is incredibly well-crafted with songs that really capture the essence of the band and the direction they are heading in. Album opener "Sol Invictus" is a bit of an ambient instrumental track with some spoken/sung words by Mike Patton. An odd intro and a bit unconventional but when has Faith No More ever been conventional? "Superhero" really kicks the album off with flare and some good pacing. A beautiful piano intro by Roddy Bottum is quickly followed up by an almost march-like drum cadence with Patton screaming "Go" in many different voices. The song itself is a great mix of laid back piano and well-timed guitar hooks.
For me, while the music has always been fascinating with all the different progressions and tempo changes, Mike Patton has been the focus of my attention. Good or bad, I find him to be incredibly polarizing with his absolutely incredible vocal range and the different styles he brings to the band. "Superhero" is a prime example of his range with him doing some beautiful clean vocals, some snarly snapping vocals, some growls and some gibberish vocals. All of these are familiarities that give the song the feeling of your childhood home. It just feels good doesn't it? "Sunny Side Up" follows and is one of the contenders for my favorite track on the album. With a bit of jazz influence, it's just a gritty and catchy track that is easy to sing along to and will have you humming the melody for days on end. Some of the lyrics from this song just force you to smile and laugh. For instance, when Patton sings "I'll be your leprechaun, shamrock on your lucky charm", I find myself grinning like a simpleton. "Separation Anxiety" has a sludgy start that just makes you feel dirty and Patton's whispered vocals feel like a madman conversing with himself in a dingy padded room somewhere. The song picks up midway through with a driving guitar riff and some metal moments with speed picking and solid fretwork.
"Cone of Shame" is a very deceptive track, with the beginning having a more relaxed feel to it and some really creepy, rasped vocals. But once the song hits about the two minute mark, the heaviness kicks off and Patton's vocals become a bit more aggressive and the rest of the band follow suit with the guitars, drums and bass rumbling, wailing and thumping in unison. "Rise of the Fall" is a song that just utterly befuddles me. I can't figure out what to make of it as it is just all over the place with tempo changes and instrumentation. It's not a bad song, just a lot to try and process. "Black Friday" has a sound that puts me in the mind of a Tarantino film, with a slightly Tex-Mex guitar line with some Western sounding keys. Then the vocals are somewhat Danzig-like in the enunciation and delivery and it all just forms this amalgamated gem of a track that just continually surprises me every time I listen to it.
"Motherfucker" is the next track and was also the first song the band released to fans for a preview. I've wrestled with this and "Sunny Side Up" as my favorite tracks and I think after much debate I have to go with "Motherfucker" simply because to me it epitomizes Faith No More and their capabilities as a band to craft the simplest song that is yet so complex on many other levels. Bottum's haunting piano provides a great backbone with bassist Billy Gould and guitarist Jon Hudson providing some very different instrumentation with pick scrapes and string slaps. The chorus to this song is so catchy that I challenge anyone who reads this review to listen to the chorus just one time and not find yourself singing it hours later still. The drums have this really cool military cadence akin to Civil War era drummers. The lyrics in this song are some of the most clever on the entire album--take the line "Set aside the scruples in a stratagem of strength, a smallpox laden blanket invisible with stains, inoculating bastards, bloody pecked pain." for instance. Where else are you going to get alliterative lyrics like that? The lyrical content on "Sol Invictus" is brilliant and fun and a welcome deviation from the norm.
"Matador" is probably my least favorite track on the album and it isn't because it's a bad song, it's just not my cup of tea. There is the somewhat patterned tickling of the ivories intro by Bottum before the song picks up in tempo just a little. But I just couldn't really get into this song no matter how hard I tried. The album is finished off with "From the Dead" where yet again the Western/Tex-Mex feel manifests itself once again. I wonder if the band were watching Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez movies while working on this album? Anywho, the song utilizes Patton's clean vocals and vocal harmony from the band to really give it a full bodied sound and I find my foot tapping along every time this track comes on. There seems to be what sounds like a theremin throughout the track and it's a bit of meandering, lazy flowing song that just makes you feel like you have reached the end of the day and now it's time to crack open a cold one and kick back.
All in all, I could not have been happier with "Sol Invictus" and how it sounds. I know fans of the band's sound from back in the late 80s to early 90s will probably bitch and moan about them sounding softer and less edgy. But I think it's a great offering from a band that many believed to be destined for the shelf and were not expecting this resurrection at all and we should all take comfort in that. The one thing to me that dampened the resurgence a bit was the absence of original guitarist Jim Martin. He was a staple for the band's sound in the early days and with his fretwork and Patton's soaring vocal range, the band were a force to be reckoned with. New guitarist Jon Hudson turns in some very admirable guitar work and I really enjoy the new sound the band has cultivated.
Fans of the band will pick this one up simply because it's Faith No More and it's new. For listeners not familiar with the band, if this is your intro to the band or your first full album, you will be pleasantly surprised and in for a treat. I highly recommend first time fans going back and listening to "The Real Thing" and "Angel Dust" as well because those are albums that stand the test of time and give you an idea of where they came from to get to where they are now. I'll end with this, Sol Invictus roughly translates to mean Unconquered Sun or Invincible Sun. When it comes to Faith No More, I feel that they are the undisputed champions of challenging what hard rock and metal is and pushing the envelope to broaden that definition as well as people's minds. So rockers, head bangers, metalheads, music fans, all of you give yourself over to the Unconquered Sun and witness its splendor and brilliance.
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