Album Review: Faith No More – Sol Invictus

Faith No More Sol Invictus vinyl album cover
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Faith No More are an anomaly.

Sure, they’re a rock band. But they’re also more then that.

They can funk it up like the Chili Peppers, or skank it up like the Wailers. They’re so odd and avant-garde that one never quite knows what to expect. Little wonder, then, that they inspired a wave of bands that collectively spawned the nu-metal genre.

You are as likely to hear them covering Lionel Richie on an easy listening radio station, as covering Black Sabbath on a hard rock station. And when I saw them play at Westfest back in March they closed their set with a Bee Gees cover.

That set was great. The band exhibited their bizarre humour by wearing a uniform of white linen, with a white backdrop behind them and hundreds of bouquets of flowers carefully arranged onstage. And as great as it was to hear all the old classics, the songs from the then-unreleased Sol Invictus still stood out as strong enough to slot in among the other songs.

Faith No More playing at Westfest in Auckland. Photo taken from Faith No More's Facebook page

Faith No More playing at Westfest in Auckland.
Photo taken from Faith No More’s Facebook page

It can be scary for fans when bands reform. Will they live up to the standard of their glory days? or are they has-beens who have decided to give it another go for the money? After seeing them play earlier this year, I could tell that Faith No More thankfully still have the goods.

They’re hardly covering new territory with Sol Invictus. It’s merely a continuation of Album Of The Year. This is surprising in some ways, considering that almost 17 years have passed since AOTY, so you could be forgiven for assuming that their sound would change over such a long period. Take Blink 182, for the sake of comparison. Their Neighborhoods  album that the released shortly after they reunited didn’t sound like old Blink 182, it sounded like Angels and Airwaves and +44, projects that the respective members had worked on during their split. The band members hadn’t stayed stagnant, so their musical styles had developed over time. Likewise, the FNM members have kept busy during their time apart – working on side projects, touring with other bands, scoring movies and starting record labels – but this doesn’t seem to have affected their sound and style.

‘Motherfucker’ was a bold choice for the first single – unlikely to garner much radio play because of the swearing, but provocative enough to cause publicity buzz elsewhere. However, second single, ‘Superhero’, wasn’t anti-commercial like the first, with the first preview initially being hosted on the Marvel website. Obviously Marvel are synonymous with superheroes (after which the song is named), but they are also the ruling kings of Hollywood, (along with Disney).

These two tracks were good choices as singles though. They, along with ‘Matador’, are the standout songs on the album.

‘Motherfucker’ is built upon a repeated drumbeat and chanting. Mike Patton’s soaring vocals cuts over the mantra. It’s so silly, but contagious. Its sinister, but ridiculous enough that it can’t be taken too seriously.

Likewise ‘Superhero’ seems cartoonish with its “HEY, hey, HEY, hey” like the “Gabba gabba hey” part from the Ramones ‘Pinhead’, but then ominous enough to stay grounded.

Patton sings, screams, shouts, growls, whispers and croons. His voice really is an instrument, with a reported six octave range. He uses different types of microphones and effects just as a guitarist uses pedals to change-up the sound.

Refusing to be pigeonholed, Sol Invictus sounds diverse yet familiar. It’s uncommon enough to have rock music led by piano and not guitar, but FNM have deliberately cultivated their own recognisable sound. Part operatic, part spaghetti western, with plenty of avant-garde and slick, dark rock to boot. There are definite nods to earlier albums, almost to the point that the album seems too same-y, but at 40 minutes long, the album is too short for repetitions to bore.

Trying to analyse it too hard is futile to attempt. I’m sure that there is some social commentary going on somewhere, but I couldn’t specify what exactly. The whole thing feels like a big in-joke from the band. Is this a magnum opus that they are proud of, or a social experiment to see what they can pass off as art to sell to the mindless masses?

Sol Invictus has grown on me with each listen. It’s weird, slightly unhinged rock music played by talented musicians. It’s the same Faith No More, just as they left off. If you’re a fan, then you’ll know what to expect, and you’ll probably like listening to more of the same. I wouldn’t call Sol Invictus vital, but it’s certainly not a disappointment.

Joseph James

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