Album Review: Faith No More, ‘Sol Invictus’
Faith No More's seventh album begins with frontman Mike Patton doing his best Leonard Cohen impression over a tiptoeing, faux-jazz, and slightly tongue-in-cheek piano figure courtesy of keyboardist Roddy Bottum. Tentative and slow-building with an almost cabaret-like atmosphere, the decision to make this type of entrance after a wait of nearly two decades mirrors the way the iconic band didn't rush into any new material after initially reuniting six years ago. In fact, Sol Invictus oozes with casual confidence -- clearly the work of musicians who allowed themselves to gel again as a unit and created the conditions for their sound to, in a manner of speaking, simply come up through their pores.
Nothing about this new material gives off the feeling that Faith No More agonized over recapturing their chemistry or grappled with how their contribution might find a place in today's musical climate -- questions that haunt any band that returns after a long absence. And the ease with which all five members give the songs that signature FNM feeling of buildup suggests that they were able to get as comfortable in their sound as if they were putting on an old jacket. Which is not to say that Sol Invictus sounds tossed-off but that, on the contrary, nothing about it sounds contrived or forced. Throughout, the band sounds invigorated, well-rested and well-oiled -- like it has benefited alike from time spent apart and back together.
Case in point: the brooding, dramatic flair of "Motherf---er" -- with its wash of keyboard swells, instantly memorable chorus, and slyly serious undercurrent -- sounds in tone and construction like any highlight from the band's classic period, only more seasoned in its execution. (All of these songs started out, as all FNM albums have, with the creative nucleus of bassist Billy Gould, Bottum and drummer Mike Bordin. Gould also wore the hat of producer this time around.)
Not to be overlooked, returning guitarist Jon Hudson's sparkling leads lend as much character and vitality to the music as every other member's contributions. Sol Invictus may, in fact, be the first Faith No More album that fires equally from all five cylinders. In an age where bands are increasingly non-committal about their status -- neither concretely together nor broken up but instead phasing in and out of activity -- it's remarkable that Sol Invictus makes it sound as if Faith No More never even left.