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Faith No More - Sol Invictus

Faith No More - Sol InvictusFaith No More are an awkward bunch. Willfully obtuse and totally unpredictable, no one would have bet on them reforming after their split in 1997 let alone releasing a new album. But here we are, in 2015 with a brand new FNM album landing in our laps. Born out of boredom, according to Roddy Bottum, the band seem to have learnt how to deal with each other. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder so the thick end of nearly two decades apart must have done them good!

The creative tensions that made this band so special, but ultimately tore them apart, are still there but Mike Patton and friends have learned once again to channel them into the music rather than at each other. Opening with a trademark Roddy piano refrain, militaristic drumming and sonorous vocals, title track Sol Invictus kicks the album off in a typically untypical style... a languid, low-key beginning to the album.

The album then explodes into life with Superman, an uptempo stomper driven by the pounding rhythm section while the guitar and keyboards fight for supremacy. Patton's vocals are typically manic, a charicarisic of the entire album as the vocalist adopts different personalities for every song, changing his vocal style often. Patton veers from that wonderfully deep baritone and sleazy drawl to manic screaming, visiting many different points in between.

Sunny Side Up adds funk to the mid-paced intro before speeding up and slowing down again schizophrenically. You have to love a song that manages to get leprechauns, shamrock and Fred Astair into they lyrics and reminds us the sunny side up isn't the only way to cook an egg. Next is the claustrophobic Separation Anxiety with its insistant bass and manic, almost spoken lyrics. Four songs in, it starts to dawn on you that these songs are putting grappling hooks in your brain and they are going to be lodged there for weeks to come. Faith No More have a knack of writing supremely catchy songs. The "Leader of men" chorus from Superman and "Get the motherfucker on the phone" from Motherfucker will be particularly hard to dislodge and you'll find yourself humming even the faster heavier tunes.

This being Faith No More you can guarantee weirdness, which arrives in the languid form of Cone Of Shame which has more twists and turns in its sinister four minutes forty seconds than a twisty turny thing... and Mike Patton wants to skin you alive to see what makes you tick! More quirkiness appears with Rise Of The Fall. Many bands would find it hard to squeeze this much creativity into an entire album as FNM pack into this one song. There's also a "Bom, bom, bom" bit that sounds like it comes straight from Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas.

It can range from hard to impossible to sift through Mike Patton's lyrical metaphors but there's no trouble on both Black Friday and Motherfucker which are aimed squarely at humanity's greed and need for more and more. You can clearly hear the disdain in Patton's vocals and the latter is one of the strangest songs the band have ever written, which is saying something! John Hudson really lets rip with a superb solo toward the song's climax too before the song grinds to a halt.

Everything is slowed down for the closing couplet of Matador and From The Dead. The former is the longest song on the album at just over six minutes, built on a wonderful keyboard refrain which combines with Patton's soaring vocals as the song builds to a thunderous end. The latter driven by acoustic guitar and some gorgeous vocal harmonies and with Patton's final lyric, "Welcome home my friend" the album is all too soon over.

It goes without saying that the musicianship throughout is excellent and you would expect nothing less from a band who have been together this long. Roddy Bottum and Jon Hudson have learnt when to give each other room and and when to combine together. Mike Bordin and Billy Gould must be one of the tightest rhythm sections around. Production has been handled by the band themselves and is superb. Despite the brevity of some of the songs they are all uniformly complex, each composition in its own peculiar way. It must have been a nightmare trying to find balance between all the instruments, the vocals and the backing harmonies but everything is crystal clear. A difficult job very well done.

Sol Invictus is short, clocking in at just over 38 minutes. It feels like the album harks back to a bygone age where bands had two short sides of vinyl to fill and made the most of it rather than having 80 minutes of cd time and feeling the need to use almost every second of it. It's quality rather than quantity that counts here and as the finsl notes fade it leaves you wanting more... always a good sign.

With the four previous albums recorded with Patton in the band, the bar has been set almost impossibly high but the writing and playing on Sol Invictus is exemplary. This isn't quite Angel Dust, a unique work of true genius, but nevertheless it's a worthy addition to the band's catalogue and certainly isn't overshadowed by its illustrious ancestors. Despite the huge gap between them this album sounds strangely like a natural progression from Album Of The Year, almost as if no time has passed between the two. At this point, woth a long tour in front of them, I doubt even the band know what will follow. If this turns out to be the last Faith No More album the band can be satisfied that they left on a high and added to their already considerable reputation.

Released: 19.05.15

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