HEAR THAT LION ROAR | Sol Invictus Review
In 1992 the Faith No More fever surrounding 'Angel Dust' changed my life. Never had I been so passionate about one album and rarely have I since, 'AD' set the bar out of reach. The media coverage was addictive, every magazine article, band photograph and interview I found was like striking gold. Without the ease of the internet it was a treasure hunt. These were read, re-read, then posted on my bedroom wall. Apperances on the Jakki Brambles show, Raw Power and MTV all blew my mind.
FNM's latest album 'Sol Invictus' has taken me back 23 years to those unforgettable obsessive teenage times, saturated in FNM media and soaking in every word posted by or about my musical heroes.
The first concrete clues we got of a new album were at Hyde Park last July after FNM premiered 'Motherfucker' and 'Superhero'. Myself and my friends had spoken about the possibility of new material but this was the evidence we needed to heighten the hopes we had begun to build ever since the reunion in 2009.
After the show, while Soundgarden's set was drawing to an end, I had the privilege of chatting to Bill Gould asking the question, 'So is there a new album?'. He smiled and said not entirely convincingly, 'We might put something out, an EP maybe. We are not sure yet. But there will definitely be something.' Of course at this point the album was already under way! I returned home that day elated, not only over meeting one of my idols but because I now knew 100% 'something big' was on the horizon, Bill's mischievous grin had told me that at least.
In September 2014 FNM announced there was full album coming. We were soon blessed by the release of 'Motherfucker' and 'Superhero' as the preceding singles.
Soaking information up this time around has been an easier task than in 1992. The clever and personal way in which the band have approached the promotion of 'Sol Invictus' has meant an ocean of fantastic interviews and articles.
You may be sick and tired of reading reviews of the new album by now, and I'm not sure there is much I can add to the fantastic write up penned by Adrian at FNM 2.0. However I do enjoy sharing my views on FNM to like minds and hopefully I can bring something as yet unexplored to the table. But please forgive me if I do reiterate points made by others.
As an artist it seems sensible to give my critic of the album cover first. Funnily enough I've always been intrigued by rather creepy vintage American Halloween photographs that crop up on various forums, but had never discovered the great collection in 'Haunted Air' by Ossian Brown. The choice of photographs used on the album is an odd but still eye catching selection, particularly the adolescent devil featured on the reverse. The display of images used evoke a disturbing and unholy feel, there will always be something inherently unsettling about children in a horror setting.
Martin Kvamme is a genius and his work with Ipecac is inspired, so on finding out he would be in charge of design it was guaranteed we would be presented with a beautiful and creative end product. The high quality of the textured, heavy duty card with mat finish and foil embossed lettering is a delight to run your fingers over. The simple gold and grey tones used suggest a classic supremacy you would find on the hardback cover to a collection of ancient poems by a Greek philosopher rather than a record sleeve. Kvamme has outdone himself by taking a collection of simple yet striking images and creating such esthetically pleasing artwork.
So to the music, like my friend Adrian I have opted for the long analysis, song by song.
This is the first time a Faith No More album has begun on a song with this leisurely pace, abandoning the tradition of a ferocious 'slap in the face' opener. This does however seem to suit the tone of the record as a whole. 'Sol Invictus' is a grand and atmospheric chant with plenty of space for Roddy Bottum's classical piano melodies and Mike Patton's crisp breathy drones. Mike Bordin's shuffle beat keeps pace and somber composure. The first words uttered describe a lack of faith or a inability to recognise it, the character of the song has just awakened from (or is) following a path to death. This common subject of finality and rebirth is explored throughout the album.
A majestic powerhouse of a song that rings out like an anthem of war, a battle cry. It's easy to imagine Superhero as the soundtrack to a Marvel comic book movie, playing as the hero surveys the devastation left in their wake, triumphant. Bill's thunderous bassline, Jon Hudson's vanquishing guitar riff and those middle eastern keys reminiscent of past FNM are what we hoped to hear. Check out our full Superhero review.
Sunny Side Up
The most lighthearted and poppy song on the album, although in true fashion it has a sarcastic undercurrent. There are moments of extreme aggression from Patton showcasing his vocal range to the max, from soulful croon to spitting scream. This song endears some classic FNM features such as a tendency to shift from major to minor chords in the blink of an eye, creating intensely interesting melodies. It is also a great example of how tight the rhythm section still are. Addressing the lyrics in this particular song seems to be common place in other reviews and with good reason, lines like 'Rainbows will bend for me, curvy' and 'Honey Bees will sting for me, stinging' are some of the most eccentric and brilliant on the record.
Let's face it we all love this song, it embodies all we prayed for from FNM the moment we knew this record was coming. Bill's brutal bassline dominates: distorted, throbbing and angry. Roddy's haunting keys float spookily over the rhythm shaping the sinister mood, a throwback to the dark tones on 1985's 'We Care A Lot'. Patton is truly at his most psycopathic with erie melodies and spine chilling whispers. He takes the phrase 'Separation Anxiety' quite literally.
Overall we are exposed to the menacing side to FNM's split personality.
Cone Of Shame
What better way describe this track than 'BOOM!'
Jon's spaghetti western guitar riff eases us into one of the highlights of the album. Patton's voice narrates us through the break down,
'Town is quite now, like it's holding it breath. Stone marks the spot. You know who you are. They outlined in chalk...........BOOM! I'd like to peal your skin off'
One of those goosebump moments when this album makes perfect sense and the true modern day reinvention of the Faith No More rings out. The most merciless song on 'Sol Invictus' and a real testament to Jon, who's solid guitars rip into the ear.
Rise Of The Fall
Niño Rota's Sicilian theme from The Godfather and maybe even a touch of Ennio Morricone's lesser known soundtracks colour this quirky track. The melodies are incredibly addictive, Roddy's piano ending brings to mind 'Why Do You Bother'. Patton said in an interview that he heard the music and couldn't resist taking part, my guess is that this is a song that would have excited him. It would not be out of place on Mr Bungle's 'California' due to it's off beat composition. The more obsessed of us will recognise the lyric 'Bulidings fall' from an earlier FNM song, here seemingly describing a post apocalyptic scene again with those references to death and resurrection.
Another song that is driven by the heartbeat of Bill's bass and Puffy's beat. The jangle of acoustic guitar, syncopated claps and plenty of reverb give yet another song a western feel, borrowing from those cinematic classic soundtracks by Morricone and co, only with added funky swagger. In this song the earthy and raw live recording of Puffy's kit rings clear.
With the most poetic lyrics on the album Patton tackles the consumer nightmare of Black Friday. Great lines include:
'Buy me a future regret. A shrink wrapped fantasy that I won't forget
In age of the mercenary. In the nursing home where the river swallows the sea
That's where well be, With guns'
Roddy's radio unfriendly single sounds much more comfortable in the context of the album.
It uses that proven 'two halves' structure that FNM do so well. The first section dominated by those low haunting piano notes and throbbing words spoken by Roddy with the perfect rhythm that Patton usually spoils us with. Puffy's expertly timed drum roll breaks up the cinematic feel whole keeping a solid backbone. All be it a minimal part for Mr Patton he tones are still unmistakable blasting out in the anthemic chorus. The second half is a graceful melodic guitar solo, reminiscent of songs from 'Album Of The Year', actually played by Bill. The lyrics seem to describe an overindulgent feast with antagonists dominating and FNM in the corner doing their best to survive. Seeing the perverse humour in it all the way as only FNM can. Possibly a reflection on their past experience with the record industry and a statement on how they will present their future in music.
Of all the songs FNM performed live ahead of the album's release this would seem to have been a clear favourite and fans had high expectations of the recorded version. It certainly does not disappoint. Six minutes of majestic bliss in which each of the five musicians shines. Roddy's lavish and note perfect piano. Bill's unmistakable zon tones fleshing out solo sections and leaving no room for keys or guitars. Those familiar tribal beats that have set Puffy apart from most other drummers but rarely heard on this record. From about 4 minutes in Jon takes on his most assertive role of all pushing the guitar to the forefront followed by an effortless and flawless solo. Mike delivers with a multitude of operatic voices from his arsenal, singing about awakenings, rising and conquering in a continuation from the lyrics of 'Superhero'. The song reaches it's peak with a layered chorus of 'We will rise from the killing floor'.
From The Dead
Like choosing the correct opening song a conclusion must be in place to end the story which 'From The Dead' succeeds in doing. The reason why, Mike Patton's gloriously elaborate vocals and lyrics. Throughout 'Sol Invictus' he has lead us on a journey from birth, through sunny mornings, religion, and the burdens of life to this final resting place, welcoming us with open arms. He describes a funeral procession, a celebration. However he has twisted the meaning of the title 'back from the dead' to mean the opposite, returning to the grave and escaping a mundane life.
'There'll be no more sleeping on this forest floor', 'Hear that lion roar.'
Over their years since 'Album Of The Year' FNM have matured, developed their skills as musicians and developed their working relationship together....again. As FNM still remain unpredictable and unconventional this album feels like the logical progression since their last record. It is a master class in how to make FNM music.
Each song succeeds in creating a different ambience and demonstrates the skills of these five guys as song writers and musicians In particular Bill and Roddy surpass themselves with perfect performances. Successfully reaching into a new era Mike Patton has taken the experience of his many projects and used them to create a new persona as exciting as the ones previous.
The music production by Bill with finishing touches by Matt Wallace and Maor Applebaum results in a very different sound to previous records, primitive and sincere but layered and opulent.
I was asked recently to rank FNM albums in order, 'Sol Invictus' came second only to 'Angel Dust', based on on the emotions that album evokes rather than the songs, in time 'Sol Invictus' will no doubt have emotions to evoke of it's own. Each time I listen to the record there is something new to discover and this will continue for many years, maybe indefinitely, that is the beauty of FNM's music.
I have read often that fans were nervous about the release of new material, that's easily understood but that wasn't the case for me. A FNM that is able to write and record music on their own terms couldn't fail to create anything but brilliance.
Someone on our facebook page described the album affectionately as a Quentin Taratino movie soundtrack, which I think is great, in essence 'Sol Invcitus' is a collection of very different and unique songs that united create an amazing addition to FNM's catalogue.