Faith No More were one of the few high-profile acts that injected humour, irreverence, brutality and puerility into the so-called alternative rock scene of the 90s. Formed in the 80s, they reached their peak in the 90s via a clever strategy known as originality and a penchant for genre collisions that marked them out to some as court jesters while to many they were musical scientists, experimenting with pop culture, metal cliches and possessing a general disregard for playing the music business game.
From the grand greeting card of The Real Thing to the apocalyptic deconstructed bombast of Angel Dust and their oft-considered highpoint King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime they evolved, warts and all into a barely tamed, multi-limbed musical beast. After their disappointing Album Of The Year swan-song it seemed all over, a glorious journey reaching its natural conclusion and a chance for the individuals to explore their divergent musical interests. Thankfully time heals enough wounds and after reconvening to tour again they cautiously took the next logical step and in doing so have proved there is indeed life after death.
Sol Invictus translates as ‘unconquered sun’ and in typical FNM fashion they’ve cleverly twisted that into ‘son’ and the spirit of individuality and enthusiasm (see the cover art) that still pervades a young person’s formative years. The album conveys that via Patton’s border-of-insanity lyrics and the restless musicality that conveys both claustrophobia and unbridled passion. They are still kicking against the pricks and the socio-political machine but they’ve done it in a way that doesn’t sound like grown men re-enacting their long shorts and askew baseball cap years.
‘Superhero’ is trademark tribal, anthemic FNM with primitive drumming, grinding bass and the metallic chug of Jon Hudson’s guitar opening up into a prime FNM chorus led by Roddy Bottum’s magisterial keyboard chords as Patton chants ‘Leader of men, will you be one of them?’. They segue into the comparatively positive ‘Sunny Side Up’ that again slices and dices genres with smooth funk, a pop sensibility and a grand rock gesture to top it all off. ‘Separation Anxiety’ and ‘Cone Of Shame’ are the mid-album peak. They both balance dark, menacing verses that highlight the importance of the band’s rhythm section before exploding into wild, unabashed metal with prime-time FNM intensity. The latter finds some of Patton’s finest lyrics ‘I’d like to peel the skin off this winter day, I’d like to burn the hair off this summer fling’ as he rails against the layers of deception that conceal the realities of society.
‘Rise Of The Fall’ is one of the few moments that doesn’t quite convince. Rock guys doing reggae is never a good idea though FNM are one of the few you’d give a fighting chance to make it work. It nearly succeeds, sounding like a West Coast dystopian take on The Specials jamming with a speed-addled Jane’s Addiction and it fits the template of their stylistic magpie approach but doesn’t quite achieve its potential. From there they make diversions into the Mexicali western vibe of ‘Black Friday’ and it’s petulant outbursts against consumerism, the blunt and brutal ridiculousness of ‘Motherfucker’, ‘Matador’s’ post-punk guitar swerves and woozy stutter and swagger and the parting acoustic swing through ‘From The Dead’ that recalls the carefree musical vibe of ‘Easy’, ‘Take This Bottle’ and ‘Just A Man’.
The expectation was there for a good return to form from a band that always followed their muse no matter how much it threatened to derail their commercial potential. The reality is they’ve far exceeded that with Sol Invictus, an album that in its finest moments matches the best of their golden years. Rock isn’t dead, it sometimes just needs time to regroup and rejuvenate.
this review was first published on FasterLouder