Review: Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Any kind of stigma about long defunct bands reforming and writing new music has been vanquished, this year has already seen a career highpoint from the long assumed defunct Sleater-Kinney’s and a surprise eighth album from the long assumed too-tetchy-to-record Blur. Both phenomenally received albums, neither one a cynical cash-grab nor a watered down attempt to capture old glory.
Now that the cycle of dormant bands reforming for anniversary tours has become such an accepted mainstay of the music industry, you can pretty much expect any band you once loved, no matter how obscure, to be resurrected for a couple of nights at the O2 or a season of festival appearances. It’s just a question of waiting patiently.
It was like this for me in the 12 years between 1998 and 2009 after Faith No More’s split. The band that basically shaped my music taste as a teenager was no longer around and I felt oddly bereft. Angel Dust was the second CD I ever bought (after the Judgement Night soundtrack, naturally) and follow-up King for a Day opened my ears to a whole world of adventurous sound and experimentation.
Even more gallingly I never got to see them live. For a long time they were the only band that I deeply loved who I’d never seen perform live and this was heartbreaking for me, especially for someone who had accidentally seen Muse three times without even trying.
But of course I would need only to wait. In 2009 Faith No More returned to the stage, all quarrels placed aside and they seemed genuinely happy to be playing together again. Sure Patton was no longer delivering vocals through a gasmask and throwing human shit into the audience, but I think that’s probably for the best.
Six years since then and they’ve been touring the same four album’s worth of material (which is between 18 to 25 years old) for more than half a decade now so you can imagine the desire to create something entirely new to get their teeth into and scream through a megaphone was pretty strong. Faith No More certainly had no reason to record a new album for any less cynical reason than because it damn well pleased them. If they were bored of touring, they would have just stopped touring. Faith No More are a band that have only ever done exactly what they want to do.
Opening title track ‘Sol Invictus’ is a welcome introduction, understated and purposely deployed to create a sense of occasion. This will be a gothic-tinged, melodramatically charged sweep away of the cobwebs. Faith No More’s sound has developed into a deeper, more muscular beast, but there’s still the satisfying experimentation you’ve come to expect, along with Billy Gould’s extraordinary as always bass and Patton’s brilliant and bizarre vocals that stretch from louche carousing (‘Sunny Side Up’) to soaring classic rock (‘Matador’) to spitting punk (‘Superhero’) without a pause for breath.
Faith No More have of course matured, they had to, but the middle-aged years have brought with them something far beyond introspection and nostalgia. Something much more bruised. A wisdom that comes with living with one’s demons for so long they’ve become your constant companion. Sure Faith No More have been around the block a few times, but who else would you want by your side when everything turns to shit?
‘Superhero’ is phenomenal, it’s a song I can’t stop playing since its release a couple of months ago. It’s everything you love about Faith No More rolled into one perfect track. Unfettered aggression, ridiculously portentous piano, deep driving guitars, Patton’s vocals moving from a scream to a seductive call, all the while entirely melodic and endlessly inventive. And epic. Fucking epic.
‘Cone of Shame’ takes in moody spoken-word passages with the simple twang of a distant guitar, to one of the more straightforward hard-rock choruses on the album. ‘Black Friday’ lets Faith No More’s contrary bastardness come through, with lyrics screaming “buy ittttttt!!!” over and again while the “zombies walk” from one store to another. Faith No More of course released their first single in 18 years on Black Friday. ‘Motherfucker’ is an absolute pleasure too. It drives and pulsates with fury, with its abstract meditation on human greed and some tightly wound-up percussion that gives way to lead guitarist Jon Hudson’s hilarious outro.
Sol Invictus ends with ‘From the Dead’, a sprightly, country-tinged anthem, similar in tone to album-closer ‘Just a Man’ from King For a Day. It's gorgeous, shocking for its optimism and joy, and completely lovely. I can’t believe I just wrote that. But that’s Faith No More for you, they’ll always surprise you. That’s why I love them.