Released: 2015, Reclamation/Ipecac Recordings
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The last few years have seen a slew of triumphant comeback albums by revered hard rock/metal bands that all seemingly split before their time for one reason or another. Alice In Chains got the ball rolling in 2009, and more recently underground favorites Carcass, At The Gates, Godflesh and Gorguts followed suit.
Now, 18 years after their last album, and six years since reforming to play live, alt-metal provocateurs Faith No More have joined the parade with Sol Invictus, a typically odd and uncompromising work that fits comfortably within the band's quirky, sometimes deliberately uncomfortable catalog. Indeed, the album actually makes for a logical, albeit quite belated, follow-up to 1997's under-appreciated Album of the Year, boasting the same lineup and capturing a similarly laid-back, sometimes loungey vibe, and reserving its hard-rocking histrionics for emphatic bursts.
Sol Invictus has the sound of a band easing back into action instead of jumping in with all guns blazing. It's by no means a tentative or cautious album – anything but, given the first single was the snide, rap-like “Motherfucker,” with keyboardist Roddy Bottum taking the main vocal and frontman Mike Patton crooning the profanely catchy chorus. But it is a bit sonically reserved, as evidenced by the title track that opens the album with sparse, mostly piano and drum instrumentation accompanying Patton's eerily hushed, almost threatening ramble – not to mention the somewhat understated and rough production that harks all the way back to their 1985 debut We Care A Lot, the band’s last “independent” release prior to this.
Though things get rolling quickly thereafter with the spunky “Superhero,” with Patton commanding “Go! Go! Go!” at the outset and Billy Gould driving the track with his propulsive bass, Faith No More settle into an almost languid groove with “Sunny Side Up” that carries most of the rest of the way through. Occasional violent tantrums, be they from Patton's shrieking shit fits, the band muscling up, or some combination thereof - as on the conclusion to the ominous “Separation Anxiety” or the strident midsections of “Rise of the Fall” and “Cone of Shame” - do shake things up, to be sure. And they certainly keep the listener off balance, which was always been a hallmark of the band.
The Western-tinged “Black Friday,” with its alternating whipsaw groove punctuated by Joe Hudson's rare gut-punch riffs, is really the only other track aside from “Superhero” that maintains a buoyant tempo throughout. And Sol Invictus perhaps could have used another track or two in that vein to break up the soft/hard/soft dynamic that borders on redundant after a fashion – though the album's relatively tidy 10 songs in 40 minutes format helps in that regard, ensuring it never becomes dull. Yet, in typically contrarian Faith No More style, they wrap things up with the breezy, almost Beach Boys-like “From the Dead,” the least intimidating track here.
Still, it's “welcome home my friend” signoff is fitting, because it's good to see the band have kept their fuck it all sense of daring and discomfiting wit largely intact during the long interim, even if some of the oomph! of old has been lost with the passage of time. And it's just nice to have Faith No More back, regardless, as weird and wonderful as they are, even if Sol Invictus isn't quite the “album of the year” some, like myself, perhaps were hoping it would be.