Sol Invictus

Faith No More

(Digital Download - Pias #PIASL154CD)

Review by Mark Deming

In the years before Nirvana rewrote the book on the commercial possibilities of alternative rock, Faith No More were one of the rare alt-rock acts that managed to have a major commercial success on their own terms with the catchy but uncompromised funk-metal monster "Epic," from 1989's The Real Thing. But it quickly became clear that wild card vocalist Mike Patton, who joined during the sessions for The Real Thing, had greater stylistic ambitions for Faith No More than he was able to cram into that album's framework, and the group's follow-up, 1992's Angel Dust, was a strange, fascinating, and wildly diverse album that blew open the group's creative palette without much concern for their new audience, and in the grand tradition of the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, it was at once a creative touchstone and a commercial disappointment. While Faith No More soldiered on to make two more fine albums before calling it quits in 1998, the band's furious eclecticism seemed to reach a wider audience after they broke up, thanks to the cult following that embraced Patton's later projects such as Tomahawk, Fantomas, and Peeping Tom, and looked back to Faith No More with open ears. While it's more unified and less aggressively eccentric than Angel Dust, 2015's Sol Invictus -- Faith No More's first album since regrouping for live work in 2011 -- certainly captures the same "anything goes" spirit of their best album, and the results capture the feel of their finest work. The band's willfully bent take on hard rock is a bit softened here, thanks to the continuing absence of original guitarist Jim Martin, but Jon Hudson's six-string work is more than up to the shape-shifting attack of this album, and keyboardist Roddy Bottum shines here as the songs swing between the arty and the claustrophobically intense, ambitious in their melodic structures but unafraid to hit hard (and bassist Bill Gould and drummer Mike Bordin bring both the precision and the muscle this music demands). And if you want to argue that Mike Patton took control of the group once "Epic" hit (and you'd probably be right), there's no question that he did some impressive work with the materials at his disposal, and even as Sol Invictus sounds more collaborative than Angel Dust, it shows he had the chops and the crackpot vision to lead this band into strange but remarkable places. From the churning paranoia of "Separation Anxiety" and the distressed funk of "Sunny Side Up" to the blasting impact of "Cone of Shame" and the broadly theatrical closing number "From the Dead," Patton's range is every bit as broad as the band's, and if he hasn't guided Faith No More to a second masterpiece, Sol Invictus is their best and most compelling work since Angel Dust, and the rare reunion album that truly adds to the strength of the group's legacy rather than diluting it.

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