Thursday 30 April 2015

Faith No More - 'Sol Invictus' (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 18 May 2015
Label: Ipecac Recordings/
Reclamation Recordings

‘Sol Invictus’ CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. "Sol Invictus"
2. "Superhero"
3. "Sunny Side Up"
4. "Separation Anxiety"
5. "Cone of Shame"
6. "Rise of the Fall"
7. "Black Friday"
8. "Motherfucker"
9. "Matador"
10. "From the Dead"

Faith No More is

Mike Patton | vocals
Jon Hudson | Guitars
Billy Gould | Bass
Roddy Bottum | Keyboards
Mike Bordin | Drums


‘Sol Invictus’ is an album that only Faith No More could have produced. Unique and flavoursome, it bastardises and mutilates a plethora of styles and moods, moulding them to the shape of their own distinct musical mantra. Patton is on tremendous form, his caustic and witty lyrics in many ways the centrepiece to the record. He's the figurehead, the father figure even, of a dysfunctional family befitting of the silver screen; such is the excitement of the sparks the interweaving personalities of this band create when living alongside one another. But it's that perfect disharmony that we as the viewer, or indeed listener in this instance, love to see, it's what got us hooked in the first place.

The keys of Roddy Bottum are the musical voicing of the creepy uncle of the family, he acts dramatically, forcefully even, when all else in the house is quiet. When the atmosphere is rowdy meanwhile, you'll find him yearning sorrowfully out the way in the corner. The rhythm section is either side to the multi-personality of the Mother Hen. Half worried and frantic carer, half the proud and headstrong that, when called upon, will always pull her family through whatever hardship may come their way. Jon Hudson's guitars are very much the naughty son, the high octane, prank-making wild child who never does as he's told. Musically there's a shadowy moodiness to it that, somehow, couples itself with an edgy, punk driven energy when it should be a confusing juxtaposition. Similarities between guitars and keyboards are innate, and so often tangle up in the most inspiring of ways.

As a collective they are forever unpredictable. They slap you in the face when you expected a kick in the balls, they'll drop a punchline just as anger bubbles uncontrollably out of your throat. Lest we forget that 18 years is a hell of a long time away from the limelight. Sure, they've been ever-present on the European festival circuit since their 2009 reformation, a resurrection crowned with a headline performance at Donnington Park, but they've not been present like this in nearly two decades. Of course, adrenalised journalists will be dipping their quills in their finest ink to wax lyrical about how this 40 minute long record might just be one of the finest comebacks in rock n' roll history - and they'll be too quick to drop that clichéd and devalued c word - but I don't think we should seem so surprised. ‘Sol Invictus’ is an album that only Faith No More can make because there is simply no one like them. They're special, undeniably so; they don't fit into any category you may try and box them into, they swim upstream, alien to any contemporary movement that flows around them. As a record, it goes to great lengths to confirm that, but it's all done so effortlessly. They make 18 years in limbo worth it, more so forgotten about entirely, the second that first, crooked piano chord sways into motion like a wind-up toy.

The whole thing plays out very theatrically, raising its curtains to the dark and twisted inner workings of the Californian quintet's brain.  But at the same time, it's also a very delicate beginning. You'd think after such a long time away from the foray would see them turbo charged and going for the jugular from the off, but no. It emphasises the band's eccentric nature, never once do they fall in line with your predictions and it works brilliantly. The sulking theatrics of the title track have you hanging on a thread, waiting for the next move and it's one which comes in the form of an instant classic. ‘Superhero’ is a ravenous, blood thirsty monster of a song, driven by the apathetic spit of Patton's lyrics. The band are tightly coiled around one another here, an explosion of fast paced guitars, bass and drums who's aural submission timelessly makes room for an intelligent melodicism that seduces you like Eve with the apple.

What's most impressive about ‘Sol Invictus’ is how the band are able to resonate every mood, style and aesthetic that makes up this most complex of mosaic sounds without every letting the momentum slip. ‘Sunny Side Up’ and ‘Black Friday’ unmask their more poppy, light hearted side with hip shaking rhythms and a bright musicality while the veneering and venomous ‘Matador’ sounds at points like a dark flamenco musical, a lavishly decorated stage and rapt audience jolting into your imagination in an instant. The grinding bass and snarling vocals on ‘Separation Anxiety’ and the contemptuously crazed and evil ‘Cone of Shame’ then, are very much the flip side of the album’s happier songs. The former unravels maniacally, every spec of the canvas painted with just the right colour in just the right places, the drum fills are on point, the crescendo lurching impeccably. The latter though, is simply a filthy, love-at-first-listen kind of song. It leaves you breathless. ‘Motherfucker’ is a piece of nightmarish prose from Patton, backed suitably by his cohorts. It’s poetry. If Jim Morrison was still around today, he’d be writing songs like this.

You could sit and list every element of spectacle about this album, every moment that grips you vice-like – such is the attention to detail here. But all you really need to know is this: ‘Sol Invictus’ sounds like Faith No More and no one else. It’s diverse, thrilling. The burdening weight of expectancy may have hinged on their shoulders, the desperation from the fans of this record being worth the slow and painful wait, but Faith No More didn’t even seem to notice. They perform like they never went away and, when it sucks you in, it honestly feels like they never did.   

Words: Phil Weller

‘Sol Invictus’ is available USA and Europe

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