We temporarily interrupt the Aerosmith series in order to bring you this…
When I worked at the Record Store, I used to tell the younger folks, “If you like bands such as Korn, System of a Down, or Incubus, then you need to check out Faith No More. They were doing what those bands did way back in the early 90’s.” I still maintain that to be true. Faith No More have been there, done that, and moved onto Sol Invictus, their first studio album in 18 years.
Every Faith No More album requires multiple listens to “get”, usually somewhere between three and a dozen listens. There is no shortcut to this. The only way to appreciate Faith No More is to give each record the time and focus that it deserves. Faith No More is not background music nor have they ever been. Scott from Heavy Metal Overload said in his Sol Invictus review, “…On initial spins it seemed like Faith No More were playing it too safe. The material and delivery seemed lazy and half-baked.” I had the same impression. The songs seemed too laid-back and passive at first. Then the album began to sink in, as I absorbed its shadowy intensity.
As a fan since 1990, I tried to keep my expectations reasonable in 2015. In my heart, I knew that if Faith No More were to live up to their past, the new album must meet the following criteria at minimum:
1. The album had to continue to straddle many genres of music, as they always have — preferably within the same song. They have done this again, blending exotic moods and textures together into a contiguous whole. Diversity is not an issue.
2. I needed Mike Patton to blow me away with his singing again. I know his voice has changed (as voices do!) but he is such a unique, innovative vocalist that I couldn’t settle for anything less than manic intense awesomeness. Once again, Patton has risen to the occasion. Utilizing gutteral grunts, Tom Waits’ low grumbles, and sandpaper screams, he uses his voice as an instrument. Just listen to that “Go! Go! Go! Go!” hook in “Superhero”. There is no better way to describe it than vocals as a bizarre instrument.
3. A Faith No More album must be bracing, even if the songs are slower and quieter. I found 1997’s Album of the Year (the last album, and the only other one with guitarist Jon Hudson) to be tame by comparison to their prior work. Not Sol Invictus. Even on slower, more melodic tracks like the excellent “Sunny Side Up”, they bristle with tension. There’s an emotional intensity to every track.
4. Faith No More have to sound like they mean it — and they do. I hate when a band reunites, but do not add anything to their legacy when they do it. Sol Invictus has a purpose; you can hear the blood sweat and tears in the songs.
5. This one was a given. The musicianship had to be top notch. No worries there. In addition I feel like I’m “getting to know” guitarist Jon Hudson for the first time, due to his diverse work here. Heavy Metal Overload also laid kudos at the feet of keyboardist Roddy Bottum, and he does deserve credit for creating the textures and atmosphere.
I have to admit I was worried about this album. I didn’t care for the first two singles, “Superhero” and “Motherfucker”. Because of this, I purposely did not play them again, until the album came out. I know that Faith No More are not the kind of band you can always appreciate from a single. I was concerned that the first two singles didn’t leave an impression, but I knew that the context of a full album would do them good, and I was right.
My favourite track of the album cuts is “Rise of the Fall”. This singular song combines elements from all eras of Faith No More into one. At times it sounds like a Mosely-era track from Introduce Yourself. At others, one of the more humid and tropical moments on King For A Day. Then a track like “Matador” reminds me of how “Zombie Eaters” from The Real Thing builds, and builds, and builds. It stands out to me for those reasons, but it is impossible for me to ignore any of these songs. Each one has a personality of its own, and there are none I haven’t grown to like. I look forward to listening to Sol Invictus this summer, and allowing the songs to unfold on their own, and reveal their colours.
The Japanese version of this CD has a fantastic bonus track — a remix called “Superhero Battaglia”. Because I normally dislike remixes, you can trust me when I say this is a good’un. The song is intensified and made more exotic. I like it better than the original. “Superhero Battaglia” was originally the B-side to “Superhero”, logically enough. This leaves one B-side, a J.G. Thirwell remix of “Motherfucker”, still on my “want” list. (It was the B-side to the Record Store Day single for “Motherfucker”.)
Sol Invictus is the first contender for album of the year. (Pun intended.)