As we’ve seen so many times, reunion albums are, at worst, unlistenable, and at best, pale reflections of what once was great. Just consider the recent ones by Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden…the list goes on. But just as they’ve so often bucked trends, musically, so too do Faith No More buck the reunion slump with Sol Invictus (CD, digital, vinyl), which mostly sounds like they’ve picked up where they left off nearly twenty years ago.
In many ways, Sol Invictus perfectly fits Faith No More’s oeuvre. On songs such as “Superhero” and “Rise Of The Fall” the band mix crunchy metallic or punky metal guitars, soaring keyboards, and singer Mike Patton’s acrobatic vocals, which switch from the operatic to screams of pain as fast as the rest of the band switched tempos. Meanwhile, “Separation Anxiety” takes the former tenets and mixes in a bit more atmospheric tones, while in “Motherfucker,” keyboard player Roddy Bottum gives a stoic speech backed by marching band rhythms, with Patton coming in at the chorus to sing in his patented soaring style.
What Sol Invictus lacks, though, is a steady stream of rockers. While the album clocks in at forty minutes — more about that later — three of the ten track are mellow or mid-tempo (“Sunny Side Up,” “Matador,” “From The Dead,” and the title track), while four others (“Come Of Shame,” “Rise Of The Fall,” “Matador,” and “Black Friday”) are largely mellow or mid-tempo but with some aggressive bits. Which isn’t to say they aren’t bad — “Matador,” for instance, has the epic feel and soaring guitars you find all the Metallica songs called “Unforgiven” — just that it gives Sol Invictus a largely mellow vibe.
It also doesn’t help that one of those mellow moments, the title track, is why this album opens with a whimper instead of a bang. It’s like how The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers kicks off with the classic “Brown Sugar,” even though the second track, “Sway,” is a much better opener. It’s also a doubly curious decision on Faith No More’s part, given that the song that follows, “Superhero,” has the triumphant tones of an opening salvo.
Though, on the flipside, while Sol Invictus goes out on a mellow note as well, that song, “From The Dead,” has a feeling of a finale that fits the ending of a journey (and not just lyrically).
As for that length, while some might lament that Sol Invictus is short for a modern album, it actually benefits from the (relative) brevity, as there’s no filler. The album feels lean and mean. That said, it could’ve really used at least some more all-out rockers, but only if they didn’t push the album’s length past the one hour mark.
In the end, Sol Invictus isn’t as good as the album Faith No More would’ve made in 1998 as the follow-up to Album Of The Year. But it also isn’t as bad as the album they would’ve probably made now if they had never broken up and had made a bunch of albums between ’97 and now. Nor is it as bad as the aforementioned reunion albums by Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden. Which, sadly, is saying a lot. Instead, it’s a sold collection of good songs that pushes this band’s sound into familiar but still fresh territory. Let’s just hope they further buck musical trends by not splitting up again before they have a chance to make another good album.