The music of Faith No More has lived through five presidents, endless wars, economic boons and busts, global meltdown and revolutionary rebirths. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the hard-edged group’s hybridized sound has scored the soundtrack to a time of change, and now in the 21st century, the legendary band has evolved once more to return with a powerful new album, Sol Invictus, and a new focus.
After eleven years of silence, the San Francisco band reunited for a string of shows from 2009-2012. During that time, the group rekindled the creative anarchy that earned them platinum and gold records, cult status and critical acclaim, forging new music that captures the kinetic sound that made Faith No More one of the most influential rock outfits of their era. “When we first started rehearsing [for the reunion],” Gould says, “Our brains were there but our bodies weren’t. The muscle memory wasn’t there yet. We had to play these songs we hadn’t played in 14 years. But it came back, and it was incredible to hear our songs onstage, coming out of us again.”
Playing massive shows on a world tour, Gould says that seeing the crowds — comprised of die-hard devotees and new fans too — inspired the group to write a new chapter for the band. “We didn’t know who our audience was, if it was going to be new kids, or middle-aged folks,” Gould jokes about the shows, “but there were a lot of kids, that was a surprise, and a lot of our songs felt new when we played them, even though they were older. When we debuted our new song ‘Matador,’ we just told them it was a cover song, and they still went crazy.” The reaction, Gould says, became the impetus for the band to start creating new music again. The excitement from the new international audiences — who discovered the band post-breakup, during the rise of digital music distribution of the early 2000s — vaulted off the original fervent fanbase they earned from expansive touring back in the day. “We played in Berlin the night Berlin Wall fell, we were one of the first international rock bands to play in Chile after Pinochet, we toured extensively in Brazil not long after the dictatorship, played in Slovenia during the Yugoslavian breakup in ’92,” Gould recalls, “our music was the soundtrack to a lot of these world events, we’ve been connected with these places ever since.”
Recorded in bassist Bill Gould’s studio space in Oakland in 2014 and early 2015, Sol Invictus brings back the final lineup of the band, featuring founding members, drummer Mike Bordin and keyboardist Roddy Bottum, with guitarist Jon Hudson and fronted by explosive vocalist Mike Patton. Entirely self produced, the album is 100 percent Faith No More. As Patton toured and created music with his myriad projects, ideas were tossed around via email, and the new sounds began to congeal into a body of work powered with the same energy that defined Faith No More. “When we were kids, there was a producer in the room with us, but now it’s just us doing it,” Gould says, “We don’t need anybody else, it’s empowering.” Without label interference, the unified sound is electrifying, from the soaring guitar-driven anthem “Matador” to the propulsive politically-charged single “Motherfucker.”
“‘Matador’ was the first idea that Billy brought to the rest of us,” Bottum says, “and was in a sense a new beginning.” This time the band creates on their own terms, conjuring textures Gould says that reflect the earliest days of the band. “Hypnotic and gothic, we’re coming back to where we were with our first album,” he says, “Siouxsie and the Banshees, Roxy Music. Then Patton’s being Patton, crooning, screaming, with a bit of soul underneath it all. We’ve always taken strange influences and smashed them together.”
The band’s story can be defined in epochs. The ‘80s debuted the ethos of the band: organized chaos. In the earliest days, the core lineup of bassist Bill Gould, drummer Mike Bordin, guitarist Jim Martin, and keyboardist Roddy Bottum, even featured Courtney Love on vocals. When singer Chuck Mosely later joined, their controlled explosion was rendered by genre smashing, FNM collided metal with rap, punk with grooves, demanded attention from audiences with albums We Care A Lot and Introduce Yourself. “We work best when we’re dealing with a high sense of drama,” Bottum says, “tension and the release of tension has always been a thing that we do and that’s a recurring theme.” While hair metal bands of the ‘80s stripped away the rhythm section, the heavy bass-work of Gould and Bordin’s dexterous drumming made the rhythm section the spine of a song again. “Bordin’s drumming is architectural,” Gould says, “he builds up a structure and leaves space where it’s needed.” By 1988, singer Chuck Mosely was replaced with Mike Patton, whose peripatetic, wide-ranging vocal power further amplified the band’s unparalleled unpredictability. “We have chaotic shows,” Gould says, “we invite chaos, it actually becomes normal after a while. Your threshold for insanity goes up a little.” With Patton onboard, the late ‘80s album The Real Thing launched the trajectory for the nascent alternative music, a catchall for musical outliers defying categorization. The 1990s brought major labels, MTV airplay, and world tours to support their heavyweight breakthrough album Angel Dust. Scores of Faith No More imitators were signed to rival labels, launching a facsimile of the band’s sound as a distinct movement in music. By 1994, guitarist Jim Martin was replaced with Mr. Bungle’s Trey Spruance, who provided the muscular riffage and eclecticism for 1995’s King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime. Then with Jon Hudson on guitar, 1997’s Album of the Year was the band’s final effort, offering their most cohesive, unified sound, featuring the evolution in Patton’s vocal production techniques that he’d further showcase in his varied projects after the band demise in 1998.
“When we split up,” Gould says, “we explored what we could do on our own. During that time, we each developed what was a natural part of ourselves. Now, coming back, we have a wider perspective so we can do things we didn’t even think of back in the day. If we were to decide to do a country western music, it would still sound like a Faith No More album. Together we have a strong collective identity, and when we work together it makes its own animal.””
Now armed with a new arsenal of material, Faith No More is ready to unleash a new fury honed in the years since their heyday. “Every experience outside of FNM influences what we do,” Bottum says, “Poetically, politically, musically, these things make up who we are as people and affects the work.” Now that their future is self-determined, Faith No More has nothing to lose. But Bottum says the through line for the band remains the same: “We build it all up and break it all down.”