For a long time, as unlikely a reunion as the original lineup of VAN HALEN still is, the moment is finally here. They'd hit a slew of gigs spanning from 2009 to 2012, but if you'd put money down upon a brand new FAITH NO MORE album surfacing then, you'd have cast a sucker bet. Cash in now if you had the balls to believe.
The overnight success of "The Real Thing" and the immediate mainstream rejection of "Angel Dust" are what casual rock fans remember about the band, if they ever got past the rap rock of "Epic", which hardly defines what this band is about. It's why, all these years, true fans have segregated themselves by asking one simple question: "What's your favorite FAITH NO MORE album?" The universal answer like the pass phrase to a secret club, is, of course, "King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime". Despite the roster shakeup at that time which found Jim Martin on the outs, you won't find a more fiercely-defended rock album than this.
All moot as FAITH NO MORE returns officially with this year's most anticipated metal release, "Sol Invictus". It features the last recording lineup which appeared on "Album of the Year", being Mike Patton, Bill Gould, Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottum and John Hudson. Producing the album themselves, there's no gloss and no conventions. These guys have the benefit of road wear and multiple side venues (Mike Patton, especially) to give them a new perspective. Better yet, they have unrestricted freedom, and this is why "Sol Invictus" is not just a mere reunion album. It's fucking incredible.
Slinking into the album with Roddy Bottum's mellow piano passages and Mike Bordin's modified march, one feels instant gratification as soon as Mike Patton threads his voice into the title track. First Patton half-grunts and half-whispers, then rises up to the smooth crooning octaves that's given him mass appeal. He reverts to snarl mode on the politically-charged, jumpy "Superhero", which grows in intensity as John Hudson and Bill Gould slam their instruments with the same vigor they left in this band the first time. Roddy Bottum's cascading keys on "Superhero"'s sullen choruses hit such a nerve the listener is apt to weep with joy by their gorgeousness. With Mike Patton's overdubbed screams and "leader of men" mantras, along with John Hudson's raking guitars in the final stanzas, this is, without a doubt, FAITH NO MORE restored.
Patton scats his way through the slow-jiving verses of "Sunny Side Up" and scream-sings the choruses with the maniacal glee his followers have come to expect. A funky transition from John Hudson pushes "Sunny Side Up" into a flirt with pop, but a massive antipop finale opens up the band's airspace for Bill Gould's encumbering bass knocks on "Separation Anxiety". Appropriately dense, Gould's bass lines on the verses of "Separation Anxiety" shoves everything down around the listener until the song erupts into an orgasm of broiling funk-punk and rocks the hell out the remainder of the ride.
"Cone of Shame" is one of the most experimental pieces FAITH NO MORE's yet written, and the payoff for the skulking weirdness leading off the track is another explosion of rock excellence. This one is sure to play like a climax onstage, as the song hits a stupendous apex where Patton heaves at least a quarter of his vocal arsenal amidst the thumping bellicosity around him.
Brilliantly dabbling with reggae on "Rise of the Fall", the song morphs into a warped mix of samba, cha-cha and a sliver shorn from a Danny Elfman score. The continuously-evolving nature of "Rise of the Fall" (which will remind listeners of MR. BUNGLE along the way) again gives Mike Patton opportunity to layer the thing with a jubilantly twisted gaggle of voices. Those alone are enough to disseminate, much less the chattering maracas and accordions spilled into the song. "Black Friday" afterwards rides a gusty acoustic melody and heaving tempo, sounding like an old Neil Diamond song with echoing handclaps and pounding guitars dumped into the mix. The songs hits loud, headbanging crescendos but never abandons its savory glide.
Rap-scatting through the hilarious "Motherfucker", Mike Patton has assured himself and FAITH NO MORE an instant chant-along to last them an easy two decades further, depending on how long this second ride is intended to go. Ditto for the mini-epic "Matador" (jokingly told to audiences long ago it was a cover), likely to go down as one of the band's finest hours and certainly the most ambitious song FAITH NO MORE's ever written.
Considering this album had little odds of coming about years ago, it's insufficient to say "Sol Invictus" is worth the wait. It's a brand new beginning with a brand new vibe that's still FAITH NO MORE in soul. It's not "King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime", but "Sol Invictus" is that damned good on its own merits. In some ways, it's the most mind-blowing performance under the moniker. As the closing number asserts, FAITH NO MORE is back from the dead, thank God.