Even when the band was racking up radio hits and Grammy nominations, Faith No More always seemed like deliberate outsiders—outside the mainstream, outside any particular scene, outside musically. Grunge couldn’t claim the San Francisco band, because it was too metal. More mainstream metal fans found Faith No More’s flights of fancy—a rap verse here, a piano breakdown there—too left of center. But when you combine a whole bunch of margins, you can cobble together a pretty impressive sound (and fan base), as Faith No More did starting with the 1989 hit “Epic” and continuing through a series of increasingly adventurous albums.
But things clearly weren’t adventurous enough for singer Mike Patton. When Faith No More split in 1998—on the precipice of a tour opening for Aerosmith, so you can’t blame them—Patton’s muse took him everywhere but back to his slightly skewed rock band, from a metal-minded supergroup that covered horror-movie soundtracks to a solo album that’s pretty much all “vocal noises” to collaborations with everyone from John Zorn to Bjork. He’s always been too weird to be contained, and there’s no doubt he’ll return to experimenting when this reunion runs its course.
But as happens to solid bands with nuanced discographies, Faith No More’s reputation only grew in its absence, and the band dipped its toes in the lucrative reunion-tour pool in 2009, though on a relatively small scale—and with seemingly no expectation from anyone, inside or outside the band, of new music. But after literally years of hemming and hawing, with various members downplaying the possibility of new songs in interviews, Faith No More starting hinting about a year ago that something was afoot.
That something is Sol Invictus, the band’s first album in 18 years. As a rule, bands that return after that much time apart end up, at best, as halfway-decent facsimiles of their former selves, maybe good for live shows but rarely near their past studio glories. But the album announces itself immediately with an alternately menacing and tinkling title track, and delivers ten solid songs that seem to touch on every era without craning its neck looking at the band’s past: “Superhero” brings the rage, as does the creepy “Separation Anxiety,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on the band’s pinnacle, Angel Dust. Elsewhere, though, there’s more side-eyed fun to be had: “Rise Of The Fall” gets a little lost in rote Faith No More-isms, but redeems itself with a lilting melodica bit and a rhumba beat—two things rarely seen on a record that might be classified as metal. Weirder yet, “Black Friday” and “From The Dead” rest comfortably atop acoustic guitar strums, the latter closing the album with a sort of pop-song nod to the band itself, presumably.
In other words, it’s the rare, rare reunion album that’s shoulder to shoulder with what came before it, standing on the band’s solid catalog instead of trying and failing to start the climb anew. And though Sol Invictus is clearly colored by Patton’s artistic dalliances in the 18 years since Album Of The Year, it’s instantly recognizable as Faith No More, and at least in the neighborhood of some of the band’s best. That’s more than any reasonable fan could’ve hoped for.