Hanson's Mmmbop was at the top of the charts. Hype was building for James Cameron's soon-to-be-released new film Titanic. Layne Staley and Princess Diana had yet to shuffle off this mortal coil. And Faith No More's Album of the Year hit the shelves - what was to be the last album the band released before calling it quits the following year.
Now, some bands call it a day and the more savvy listener or fan immediately knows whether or not it is indeed the end or the ever popular hiatus, whose timeline seems to have shrunk to within a day, tweeting the breakup in the morning and announcing a reunion tour by the time you're heading out to dinner.
So when Faith No More called it a day in 1998, as much as we didn't want to believe it - it really did feel like the end. Some bands you expect to hear from again, some bands you don't and Faith No More was definitely the latter. The grieving process renewed with every post-break announcement, be it drummer Mike Bordin signing on with Ozzy Ozbourne or Billy Gould and Mike Patton starting their own respective Koolarrow and Ipecac music labels. Then came Patton's endless stream of musical projects, be it Fantomas, Tomahawk, Peeping Tom, Lovage, and the list goes on.
Now, it's been almost an entire generation since their last release and for whatever the reason, whatever the astrological alignment, Faith No More have unexpectedly come together once more to give us Sol Invictus - a slow-burning slab of the truly unexpected. Sol Invictus is everything you thought you knew about Faith No More crushed like a frog in a shoebox and thrown against a tree (apologies to Big Dan Teague). Which is to say, even after so many years, the band remains as seemingly unpredictable and uncompromising as they ever were. While every sound, every instrument, every member proves to be invaluable, it really feels that it's bassist Billy Gould that tethers the whole thing together, keeping the myriad of influences from scattering all over the playground.
A track-by-track analysis:
Five seconds is literally all it takes to turn from Bottum's warm piano interlude to minor key malevolence. Setting the perfect tone for what's ahead. It's a quiet entrance - those that may have expected the band to kick open the door a la "Get Out" or Land of Sunshine" will be in for a rude awakening but it make the track no less effective.
Probably the most familiar sounding, classic vibe-ish tracks on the album. Think "What A Day" for the millenials. This is the one that's sure to get the punters pogoing at all the European festivals this summer.
Sunny Side Up
Here we find Patton at his oily loungy best. This is without a doubt the only song ever written that name-checks Fred Astaire and leprechauns, yet still manages to sound sinister as shit.
Each song on the album expertly showcases one or two members at a time, seemingly giving each a turn in the spotlight "Separation Anxiety" finds the five firing on all cylinders with a chugging rhythm throughout.
A brief word about Jon Hudson, the man who was seemingly plucked out of thin air and given the monumentally thankless task to replace the replacement of original guitarist Jim Martin's replacement (read it again, I'll wait...). When he came aboard for the aforementioned Album Of The Year, his contributions were largely ignored, despite being the most consistent guitarist the band ever had. Album Of The Year was more of a bombastic affair so his versatility may have gotten lost in the mix, but on Sol Invictus we find his range on full display so that the man may at last get his due.
Cone of Shame
Starting out tentative and unsure, it isn't long before we're pushed headfirst into the roiling pool. This one has already proven to be a new fan favorite live and one listen will tell you why.
Rise of the Fall
Quite possibly more than any other Faith No More song written, this one is the closest sound to Patton's long-standing mistress, Mr. Bungle. An unending mixture of genres and influences that perhaps is a testament to how truly collaborative and unobstructed the album as a whole appears to be.
An uptempo number with acoustic guitar and handclaps? Yes. What the fuck, bring it on. By this point, you're either along for the entire ride, or you jumped ship long ago. Remember, this is Faith No More. What we expect means less than nothing. Stop trying to read the signs, stop looking at the map. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
This was an intriguing one. Released last year as the first single and proof positive that a new album was indeed in the works, it's a sparsely arranged number and largely spoken word. I expect there was a lot of folks that didn't quite know what to make of this one (and probably still don't), but it was still a very effective warning shot across the bow to let folks know what's coming.
The catalyst for the whole damn thing. It was the music for "Matador" that Gould gave to Patton to have him get back in the RV. Roddy Bottum once again sets the dials on dread for what begins as a dirge but ends on a dare-I-say hopeful note. On an album of frightening yet beautiful short stories, this is the epic journey taking us to the precipice but stopping just short of the fall.
From the Dead
I think the Faith No More of the 90's would have ended the album on a more ambiguous note, "From The Dead" makes things very clear that the band is in a good place and for now, happy to be here, with its triumphant refrain and a "Welcome home, my friend" statement that really couldn't sum up the experience of hearing Sol Invictus any better.