As much credit as Nirvana receives for swooping in and banishing all things metal within a matter of months circa 1991/92, the truth is that the genre had already been splitting apart at the commercial level for several years with the emergence of "alternative" metal. These would be bands like Warrior Soul, Therapy? and Primus, who wed the heaviosity of metal with funk, industrial and post-punk influences to act as a bridge between the struggling underground indie rock scene and the more lucrative fold of the Headbanger's Ball brigade. Storming head and shoulders ahead of the pack were a band that had recently replaced their goofball skater of a former singer with a man of unwavering intensity and vocal acrobatics, Mr. Mike Patton.
Faith No More were early on in The Real Thing recording sessions name-checked by no less than Metallica, in those days when James Hetfield and co. were using every column inch to expound upon all the curveball bands they were currently listening to. The ascent was slow but steady… I remember having exhausted the album from start to finish and being sick to death of "Epic" by the time the video became a mainstay on Dial MTV nearly a year after the fact.
It would be three years before the band re-emerged with their follow up album, 1992's arch masterpiece Angel Dust, to date the band's finest album, and by then grunge was in full swing. The album sold briskly outside the US but, compared to The Real Thing, was met with relative coolness stateside. Somewhere along the way longtime guitarist Jim Martin left under circumstances that to this day remain a bit murky – according to some he took exception to Patton becoming the focus of the band, others say he just wasn't happy with the change in direction – and Faith No More again re-emerged in 1995 with King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime, a collection that has improved with age but at the time seemed like a substantial artistic setback. 1997's Album of the Year restored some of band's lost luster ("Last Cup of a Sorrow" proved to be a pretty major hit, with its Vertigo homage of a music video) but less than a year later the band splintered, Patton desiring the freedom to indulge full time in the side projects that had been taking up much of his time since the first Mr. Bungle album in 1991.
Sol Invictus has been a long time coming, given that the band have been touring consistently off and on since 2009, and the most striking thing about it is that it resists the temptation to recapture the old funk thrash sound of The Real Thing, instead picking up pretty much where AotY left off: "Motherfucker" is the closest FNM venture to old school funk/hip hip rhythms, turning the shitty-on-paper combination of nu metal and "88 Lines About 44 Women" into a staggering chorus showcasing Patton's melodic vocal flights. "Superhero" also proves to be a bit of a misnomer of a single, the band going the "unreliable narrator" route by throwing out the most straightforward, disposable track first.
The deep cuts are where Sol Invictus really gets interesting. "Matador", which was the earliest of these songs to be played live, is a fairly elaborate production, cascading from a plaintive piano ballad up through a bombastic, Queen-like energy build that is nonetheless classic FNM through and through. Jon Hudson acquits himself well as the logical successor to Jim Martin on his second studio effort in that role. "Black Friday" starts off with Patton reviving his schoolyard countdown rhyme scheme (ie. "Be Aggressive"), but the underpinning track is all Pixies-like acoustic western swing leading up to a stun guitar chorus.
"Cone of Shame" contains one of the few overt displays of modern influence, the central guitar line having a distinct redolence of Johnny Marr's tenure in Modest Mouse. Hewing to the formula of previous albums somewhat, "Sunny Side Up" is essentially this album's version of "Take This Bottle" or "RV", while "Rise and Fall" doesn't smack of any particular back catalog track but does indeed sound like it could have been an Angel Dust outtake.
Sol Invictus has the distinction of being consistent and fairly easy to get into while at the same time evoking the spirit and songwriting ethos of the later, slightly less prestigious albums, King for a Day and Album of the Year. However, while both of the latter were slighted in their time and left to refine with age like a fine wine, Sol Invictus is one that should prove imminently potable right here in the present.