Faith No More, after an 18-year recorded absence, is back today with a new CD, Sol Invictus, and the band sounds as finely tuned and ferocious as ever, even if the act of reuniting for a formal recording after a few years on the touring circuit brings with it some thornier issues.
The record, clocking in at 39 minutes, is tightly wound and resilient, seemingly the work of younger men. When vocalist/carnival-barker Mike Patton croons ”lee–ee–ader of men” over multiple iterations of himself on ”Superhero,” an album-opener after the mood-setting title track, you get a sense of how carefully and methodically this thing was recorded. Or, second example, when the band echoes its ”Easy” cover roots on the loungish ”Sunny Side Up.” Or, third example, when a nearly unrecognizable Patton deadpans and deliciously cusses on the Record Store Day special ”Motherfucker.” Or, fourth example, one of the record’s best tracks, the angular and throttling ”Matador,” where Patton roars about the killing floor — whew, chills. Anyway, come to think of it, this whole thing is pretty damn well recorded in every corner I can hear: kudos to bassist/producer Billy Gould on that front.
Elsewhere, the band clearly benefits from its time apart. On ”Separation Anxiety,” the group flirts with the work of Tomahawk, the band Patton formed with Jesus Lizard six-string alum Duane Denison a few years after Faith No More’s last record, 1997’s Album of the Year. (This track lacks Denison’s dexterity and flash, but you’ve gotta throw guitarist Jon Hudson a bone for that explosive breakdown at the two-minute mark.) ”Cone of Shame” also feels more mature and modern than Album or 1995’s King for A Day, Fool For A Lifetime; it’s a kind of a spaghetti western (complete with finger-snapping) with foreign subtitles provided by a loaded grenade. Similar tricks are pulled, to blood-pumping effect, on ”Rise of the Fall,” which features a jagged guitar crescendo over throbbing keyboard and madman-Patton-acrobatics that will make many wonder if they popped a Mr. Bungle disc into their CD player — in 1991.
Which, of course, leads us to the issue at hand. What year do Faith No More’s members think they’re capturing on tape? It’s tough for a band that … remember ”Epic,” Angel Dust, the birth of nu-metal, to say nothing of ”We Care A Lot,” et al et al … so encapsulated a time period — say — 1989 to 1992, to resurface 20 years and still be relevant, let alone sound contemporary.
There are touchstones of the 90s all over the disc. Roddy Bottum’s keyboards can sound dated, sometimes in the right ways, sometimes in the wrongs ones. Patton, whose vocals are sometimes over-produced with a sheen, is a theatrical beast and I’d be lying if I said some people (not me) won’t find it cloying. And Hudson, the most recently added appendage to the body FNM, plays solos that sometimes howl closer to 80s metal than 00s Explosions In The Sky, if you know what I mean. It’s not bad. It’s just of its time.
People don’t always like their favorite musicians to change. They like them to evolve over eons, to move slowly and gradually, almost encased in ice. Faith No More seems to inherently know this and they’ve done a brilliant job walking the line between reunion and reinvention on Sol Invictus. They’ve given loyal fans a record that sounds mostly like what they were doing in the 90s and they’ve given new listeners a reason to check them out. If this the start of something new or a flash in the pan, only time will tell. But Patton & company are sounding like they are in for the ride. Pay the man and buy your ticket.