With 18 years passed since 1997’s Album of the Year, an album that echoed through nearly two decades with a droning swan song that wailed and whispered “I’m watching you” and “I’ll be with you” with its final track, Sol Invictus comes as more of a shock than anything else. Even with all the teasing that happened as early as 2011 with live song premieres, the quashing of new album dreams in 2012, and once again with the teasing as of last year, the fact that Sol Invictus even exists is still somewhat startling.
Sol Invictus is not particularly similar to anything that preceded it in Faith No More’s body of work, but it is noticeably of the band in composition. Stylistically, it resembles its most recent ancestor in Album of the Year, but feels more influenced by outside sources. Bassist Billy Gould had talked about what inspired a great deal of the songwriting on the record, citing influences from The Cramps, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Link Wray.
There is an interesting amalgam of music on here, from the surf rock-influenced “Black Friday” to the droning dirge of “Matador.” Faith No More continue to stay relevant in their sound, even being out of the game as a unit for nearly two decades. That’s likely with no small thanks to vocalist Mike Patton‘s tireless work in the industry with acts like Tomahawk, Fantômas, and an incredible number of projects with John Zorn, that still managed to produce material during Faith No More’s quiet period. That’s not to say that the rest of the members were silent, with Billy Gould having his hands full on other works, Mike Bordin‘s decade-long stint with Ozzy Osbourne, and Roddy Bottum working on his own project in Imperial Teen, the most key members of Faith No More’s compositional team have managed to stay fresh over the years. The only exception would be Jon Hudson, who more than likely helped on some arrangements (like with Album of the Year), but with the lessening of the importance of guitar in Faith No More’s music over the years (one of the factors that determined original guitarist Jim Martin‘s departure), his involvement to many may seem non-essential. Still, the whole point here is that nearly everyone involved hasn’t been merely sitting on their butts doing nothing. The work of a truly good musician is never done, and when the musical storm is in you, it rarely dies until you do.
When the band revealed the first single from Sol Invictus, “Motherfucker,” earlier this year, the reception was tepid at best. “Motherfucker” isn’t exactly grabbing or engaging lead single material and follows the “grower not a shower” mentality. Repeated listens embed the hooking chorus into your mind, urging you to “get that motherfucker on the phone.” Literal months later, we were given “Superhero,” a more openly aggressive tune that carries a the too-familiar tongue-in-cheek sarcastic commentary about the appropriated grandeur individuals will pose upon themselves.
There isn’t a bad track on here. The slow march of “Sol Invictus” that opens the album actively sets the mood for the monumental, meaty innards that comprise Sol Invictus. The acoustic-driven “From the Dead” that closes the record is similar in vibe to “Pristina” that ended Album of the Year—a certain finality in tone and lyrical nature that almost says “goodbye again,” but in a far more cheerful manner. “Sunny Side Up” sits back and relaxes with its a more laid back attitude, barring the choruses, whereas the following track, “Separation Anxiety,” with its quietly aggressive guitar riff causes your heart to quicken pace. Some would consider the juxtaposition of tracks on the album something of a head scratcher, but it seems so fitting for Faith No More.
There aren’t many downsides to Sol Invictus as a record. One thing that can be said of it for sure, however, is that it feels a bit short. Clocking in at just over 39 minutes, the whole experience feels over almost as quickly as it began. It’s almost as if there should have been more material, like there were ideas for a longer album or more songs, but they never came to fruition. In fact, it’s the shortest Faith No More album since We Care A Lot from 1985.
The only other thing that can be said about the album is the questionable choice in titling. Sol Invictus, directly translated from Latin as “Unconquered Sun,” refers to a cult formed at the end of 274 AD by the Roman emperor Aurelian. Many questions arise from the origin of the name, some believing it was a newly formed cult to honor the sun god of the same name, while others considered it a revival of the old Latin cult of Sol or perhaps even a reformation of the cult of Syro-Roman sun god, Elagabalus. The moniker may be a reference to the band itself, potentially referring to the idea that they are reforming as something new or simply a revival of something that was long-forgotten. It may be worth noting that the last reference to the cult of Sol Invictus was nearly a century after it had first formed, as Saint Augustine noticed enough devotees of the cult to actually preach against them.
Whatever the case may be, in all the mysterious nature of the name and even the band itself, Faith No More have a serious winner with Sol Invictus. Whether you’re a longtime listener or a newcomer, there is definitely something to enjoy here that will encourage you to either revisit the back catalog or discover it for the first time. Easily one of the finest records in Faith No More’s stable of consistent winners.
Faith No More’s Sol Invictus gets…