The band that made its name doing something so unusual and innovative seems to be resting on its laurels here.
In 1989, Faith No More broke out with “From Out of Nowhere,” a single with an unusual mix of dramatic synths and hard rock. That was followed by the hip-hop influenced “Epic,” arguably one of the first of such genre-splicing experiments to reach mainstream charts and one which would make them a household name and earned them heavy rotation on MTV. Drawing comparisons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More pushed further into strange musical territory to escape that label with acclaimed follow-up Angel Dust in 1992, which yielded the impressive “Midlife Crisis,” cementing the band’s sound somewhere in a grey area just outside the embrace of metalheads and yet still at home with pop audiences and across multiple demographics. However, the band went on hiatus after 1997’s Album of the Year. Who is actually waiting around to see what the band is going to do next? Frontman Mike Patton’s label, Ipecac, seems to be betting there will be many folks eager for new Faith No More music.
What Faith No More had been doing in the late ’80s and early ’90s was innovative, of course. It was rare back then to hear metal guitar riffs accompanied by synth lines in anything other than the cheesiest of goth or hair-band anthems. Here, Patton was introducing elements of hip hop, funk, rock and metal in a way that almost seemed natural, as though it was something that ought to have happened long ago. In 2015 we’re well beyond the novelty of this type of crossover. What still manages to be unique about Sol Invictus, the band’s newest album, is singer Patton’s over-the-top performance. He summons Tom Waits’ whiskey-soaked growl on the opening title track as well as “Black Friday.” The band shows great versatility and a breadth of influences on this record, as with all their previous ones. What it doesn’t have is anything quite as appealing or compelling as their early-day hits.
It’s actually a little disappointing. The band that made its name doing something so unusual and innovative seems to be resting on its laurels here. It could be said, for example, that Marilyn Manson is the present reigning king of the overlap between rock/metal and electronic music. There was an opportunity with Sol Invictus to grab their old audience by the horns and see if they could still hang on for future work. There were all kinds of directions this record could take.
“Matador” is the loudest and most epic track here. More than any other it resonates with the super-accessible hook that gave their chart-toppers their broad appeal. The band still tries to branch out and experiment, but with mixed results. “From the Dead” tries to be an acoustic number, although the sheer volume of things going on and the rather monotonous guitar and drum pattern seem to just meander the whole thing out of any particular interest. Even “Rise of the Fall” sounds vaguely reggae-like but not reggae enough to fall into a groove.
Overall, Sol Invictus is a mediocre rock record. There are some decent, listenable tracks but nothing that comes close to meeting the excitement and enthusiasm for the band that nailed a generation’s angst with “Midlife Crisis.” Patton’s voice is strong and as capable today as ever of generating the same sort of passion, but there is something about the whole thing that still manages to feel dated. Keys are used mostly as a flatbed on which the band performs a very pedestrian routine. Even the intensely titled “Motherfucker” comes off feeling a little overly dramatic with its spoken-word delivery. As Patton sings, “Hello Motherfucker/ My lover/ You saw it coming,” one is left thinking: yes, I probably did.