Album review: Sol Invictus – Faith No More

Faith No More return with a high-wire balancing act that's largely as successful as it is brave.

Mike Patton of Faith No More performs at Webster Hall in New York last week. Greg Allen / Invision / AP Photo
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Sol Invictus Faith No More


Four stars

Following an ordinary career path wasn't ever really Faith No More's cup of tea. After shooting to rock-stardom in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the San Francisco anomalies rebelled by getting pretty weird, à la Nirvana post-Nevermind. That sound was distilled on the hugely underrated 1995 album King for a Day ... Fool for a Lifetime, mixing paint-stripping screamo with bossa-nova experiments and ­tender ballads.

FNM split in 1998, eventually reuniting in 2009, but they insisted that the reconvening was strictly for live gigs only. So for a long time, it appeared that new material wasn’t on the agenda – until this recorded return was announced last year, almost two decades after their previous studio opus.

On the evidence of Sol Invictus, the decision to start recording again seems vindicated. Since the split, FNM frontman Mike Patton has become one of the music world's most consistently innovative voices, indulging in ADHD metal projects, Italian mood music, hip-hop, wiry rock, avant-garde jazz, soundtracks and spoken word, collaborating with countless contemporaries in between.

And that fearless eclecticism is refracted here – FNM are still mischievously prodding at genre boundaries.

The album's first highlight, the brooding single Superhero, is a return to the schizophrenic rock that ran down the spine of King for a Day ..., Patton growling and gurgling through verses, before unleashing his melodic talents on the chorus.

There's a semi-sporadic solar theme – the album is named after a Roman Sun god, while Sunny Side Up sees the return of Patton's surprisingly saccharine croon.

There's plenty of darkness to go with the light, however. Separation Anxiety is an oppressive, relentless, desperate four minutes of driven riffs. Cone of Shame erupts from finger snaps and a skeletal guitar line into unhinged, Patton-led chaos ("I'd like to peel your skin off/ So I can see what you really think"). And on Mother******, Patton intones wild thoughts from a dystopian future amid profanity-laden refrains. FNM can't resist a jaunty parting missive, a nod to their occasional easy-listening influences, on the positively presentable From the Dead – quite probably with an arched-eyebrow acknowledgement to the band's own Lazarus-style resurrection.

Those who loved FNM's experimental tendencies circa King for a Day ... have plenty to get their teeth into, then, but there's enough tuneful nous to also pique the attention of the band's earlier fans. All of which makes Sol Invictus a perilous high-wire balancing act that's largely as successful as it is brave.