Ray Van Horn, Jr. is many things to many people, first and foremost an accomplished music writer but to Faith No More fans he will always be the guy who wrote that review. The music and film journalist and fiction writer has written for Blabbermouth.net, Noisecreep and About.com and his blog The Metal Minute won Metal Hammer’s Best Personal Blog Award in 2009. His 10/10 review of Sol Invictus for Blabbermouth rang true as an endorsement of die-hard FNM fans and has made even casual followers tingle with anticipation ahead of the 13/15/18 May release of the album.
Ray took time out to speak to FNM 2.0 to give his discerning on Sol Invictus, Faith No More and more in the latest in our Expert interviews feature.
1 – You gave Sol Invictus 10/10 and stated that it might well be the band’s finest record. Could you have ever expected such a “brand new beginning with a brand new vibe” from an old band after an 18-year gap?
There’s no getting around the fact for many, King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime and Angel Dust are Faith No More’s magnum opuses, albeit, King has its share of detractors, as we know. That album still remains for me, their best, which I alluded to in my review. Sol Invictus is not that album. However, here’s the thing; Sol Invictus bears some of the band’s deepest songwriting ever, “Matador” being a prime example. That track’s one of the most layered songs to ever spew from those minds. I’m busy rocking out to “Separation Anxiety” and “Cone of Shame” that I nearly forget “Matador’s” coming until I’m gliding through “Black Friday” (which I’m surprised doesn’t rate higher on your blog readers’ poll) and know that “Matador’s” coming ‘round the bend. It’s perfectly placed after “Motherfucker” and the high energy tracks on the album. It forces the listener to come down from the omnipresent grooves and sink into something much deeper.
King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime remains the “insider’s” answer to that “What’s your favorite FNM album?” Yet songwriting-wise, Sol Invictus is the product of five men who had a long time away from each other (aside from sporadic reunion gigs) and it’s a genuinely inspired album. I wasn’t worried what the long creative layoff would bring. There was a mojo to Faith No More once Mike Patton took over (no offense whatsoever intended toward Chuck Mosley) and though Billy Gould and Patton field much of the songwriting of Sol Invictus, the whole band’s invested and well in the pocket. Patton’s done so much work outside of the band, of course, and that was probably the only lingering factor upon my mind, i.e., what was he going to bring to the table to summarize the past two decades of his musical life? Sol Invictus answers that, loud and clear. He’s a freakin’ genius, and the same courtesy goes to Billy, Roddy, Bordin and Jon. All these years later, they still click.
2 – When did you first hear the album? Is receiving a preview so early normal practice? Did that help in that Sol Invictus seems to be an album that requires some immersion?
I received the album by digital download a few weeks ago. Music journalists almost always get promotional material a month to sometimes two months in advance, depending on your status in the industry and mainly if a label is seeking an early review to quote for their pre-launch press releases. I listened to Sol Invictus once two weeks ago and went ape shit like I recently did over the new Atomic Bitchwax album. In both cases, I thought “immediate ten” for my ratings, but I give full marks out as sparingly as I can, since you have to have some cred, you know? In both cases, I let them mull in my mind and went to the next album in my queue, working on those next and then coming back to Atomic Bitchwax and Faith No More before confirming my 10 ratings for each.
I listened to Sol Invictus the second time on headphones and heard so much going on that I’m not positive other reviewers clued in on. I know some people are criticizing “too much Patton.” Hogwash. To me, all of his vocal layers are part of his charm as a singer and Faith No More was wise to let him dub multiple tones or let him loose with his different ranges. He used enough restraint so it wasn’t a Kaada or Fantomas album, but your usage of the word “immersion” is spot-on. Sol Invictus does require immersion and the more you listen to it, the more you get out of it. I strongly recommend using headphones with this album. It’s been an entirely different experience than when I’ve jammed the album in car.
3 – You are an acknowledged authority on all things metal and rate classic metal bands such as Maiden and Megadeth as among your favorites. Some out-and-out metal publications (Decibel for example) have reviewed Sol Invictus poorly. Can you understand this? Is the album not metal enough for mainstream metal fans? Or is that a little patronizing?
First, I thank you for such nice words. Positive feedback from my readers always make my day! I’m about to turn 45 years old, and I’ve been covering metal and punk for 13 years now, so yeah, I’m all over the “classics.” I’ve been around the block many times as a journalist for a lot of magazines and sites, though Blabbermouth’s been my home the past three. Maiden will always be my favorite heavy metal band of all-time. Goes back to 1982 when my cousin-in-law sat me in his bedroom and spun Maiden’s Killers, Dio’s Holy Diver and Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman. Changed my life forever!
Anyway, my attitude about music (like all forms of art) is that it’s strictly subjective. It’s to be consumed by those with open minds, ears and eyes to formulate their own personal evaluations of the material being presented. I’m fortunate to be in the position where my opinions are sought out professionally. Not everyone agrees with me while many do. That’s part and parcel to journalism. I’m sure there are going to be many people out there who think I’m an idiot for rating Sol Invictus a perfect ten, but I stand on it. I took my time and hit a few spins before locking that in.
I can’t speak for my colleagues out there. I know the writers, some of them personally, and the cool thing is we all get along and that the code of professionalism prevails (as far as I can tell, anyway), since what we cover is fringe art and mostly underground music. It’s not like we’re taking on the new Beyoncé joint! Faith No More’s one of the biggest names of the late eighties and early nineties, yet King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime and Album of the Year are underground records, considering the mass listening public misunderstood and shat needlessly upon Angel Dust. Yes, it sold huge, was critically-acclaimed, but was perhaps too weird for the average listener following the pop rock appeal of The Real Thing. It put this band into a strange position, since their previous two albums are considered by most of their fans their best work, even without Jim Martin on them. They’re in an upper echelon of heavy music that unfortunately, is still middle tier at-best within the grand perspective of today’s bizarre music climate.
My personal opinion is that a lot of people are measuring Sol Invictus against King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime and aren’t getting that same instant gratification the latter offers. King slams you right in the face and I think “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” is one of the fiercest freakin’ songs I’ve ever heard out of anyone, Black Flag’s “My War” inclusive (which is the angriest song ever recorded). The new album doesn’t have anything quite as full-frontal, and I’m not talking overt crudity like “Motherfucker.” “Separation Anxiety” is really damned heavy, but of a different accord. I’m merely going on my gut, but I’m thinking some of the pre-release reaction is that journalists were expecting King’s second coming. What we got was Faith No More’s second coming, which is much more important.
There was a lot of pre-release slagging of Judas Priest’s Redeemer of Souls from the metal community, but once the final product came out, it was embraced, particularly by the fans. I predict Sol Invictus will hit well with fans, minus a few quibblers here and there.
4 – You famously saw FNM support Voivod and Soundgarden in 1989. Does any of the energy and excitement from that gig still resonate on Sol Invictus?
Man, you did your research on me, chief! Cheers! Famously, I wouldn’t go that far. I was just an attendee at one of the greatest gigs I ever saw, number two behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the Mother’s Milk tour. I defy any band to outlast the Chilis’ insane stage vigor at their prime before they settled down on Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
The thing with that show you’re talking about is that yes, Faith No More and Soundgarden opened for Voivod! Even more distinctive, Voivod justified their headliners’ position by outclassing their support acts, which meant Voivod played their asses off and then some, since FNM and Soundgarden gave their all, both as newcomer acts.
I wish I could teleport you there to that night. Patton climbed high up in the rafters of an old club in Washington DC that’s long-gone, The Bayou. He stretched out upon his back, risking a death plummet, as Roddy Bottum played and Patton sung an old Nestle’s jingle you’d have to have been alive then to remember, “Sweet dreams are made of this, N-E-S-T-L-E-S.” I remember Patton pogoing all over the damn stage during “Falling to Pieces,” and I remember Jim Martin just about lopping his own head off from his frantic playing. Even Roddy was slaughtering that keyboard. Those dudes were on fire. “Woodpeckers from Mars,” damn, what a performance in and of itself. I had caught on with FNM when the original Headbangers Ball ran the video for “From Out of Nowhere.” “Epic” had just followed on the Ball and was only weeks from becoming the megahit it was. I remember telling my buddies on the way to the gig that FNM was going to be huge and they dissed me for it back then. History proved me right.
Soundgarden, wow. I was jumping up and down in front of Chris Cornell for most of their set. This was when he still had the long locks and everyone called him “Jesus” before the band did their song “Jesus Christ Pose.” At one point, Cornell leaped into the crowd and his guitar cord wrapped around my throat as everyone pushed him back up. I was getting choked, but my buddy, Bob, managed to unsnag me, just as he tossed people off my back when my glasses dropped to the floor later in the set.
But I digress. One can argue that Faith No More during The Real Thing tour had a different level of energy, which can be attributed to youth coming up the ranks and somehow sensing they were about to blow up the charts. The FNM I saw then and the footage I see of later performances are no less different as far as conviction goes. Jon Hudson and Billy Gould continue to look absolutely possessed on their instruments and Mike Bordin still slams his kit with some of meanest chops I’ve ever witnessed in rock music.
Does that resonate on Sol Invictus? Hell yes, it does, on “Superhero,” “Separation Anxiety” and “Cone of Shame” especially.
5 – Faith No More have gotten a bit of a bad rap for spawning the worst excesses of nu-metal. What is your take on that?
I don’t buy it. I’ll blame Crazy Town (and their unforgivable sample theft of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Pretty Little Ditty” for “Butterfly”) before I hang the nu-metal and rap metal thing upon Faith No More. Sure, “Introduce Yourself,” “We Care a Lot” and of course, “Epic,” pre-date Crazy Town, but if you’re going to blame Faith No More, blame Anthrax before them for “I’m the Man” and their duet with Public Enemy, “Bring tha’ Noize.” Before them, blame Aerosmith and RUN-DMC. Before them, Blondie’s “Rapture.”
The point is, all of them, including Faith No More, experimented with hip hop and rap to push the boundaries of music. “Epic” was a huge crossover success, granted, but it is nothing like what would come down the pike with Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, the latter of which I can hang with in small doses. Korn, naturally, dicked around with rap, as well, sometimes to cool ends, sometimes…not so much. To the plus side, you had Static-X and Primer 55 to come out of that brief period of “nu metal,” one being the evil disco vibe which was freakin’ killer (RIP, Wayne) and the other proving that you could rap and still have a heavy groove. More recently, what Maynard of Tool did with his electro-alt-hip hop weirdness in Puscifer was stupid brilliant.
Whether or not you loved or hated nu metal and rap metal, it did have a hand in bringing heavy music back into favor in North America after flat-out dying in the early nineties. If you want to tie that to Faith No More, then thank their asses instead of beating up on them.
6 – What are the more positive influences that Faith No More’s music continues to have?
Mike Patton has amassed such a renowned body of music by staying true to his own vision, which includes his partnership with former Isis guitarist/singer Aaron Turner and their joint label, Ipecac Recordings. This is one the finest labels in heavy music that’s produced some of the most provocative, enticing and sometimes mind-raping sounds out there.
As for Faith No More as a band, they represent that separation point in American metal I mentioned, where only Slayer, Metallica and Pantera remained in the limelight, and Megadeth at-times. If Angel Dust hadn’t been rejected by everyone but true FNM fans, Faith No More might have remained in the mix as well. They never really ran with the grunge acts that came up alongside them (unless you want to consider that Voivod tour with Soundgarden). They covered “War Pigs” on The Real Thing and held the torch for traditional heavy metal while pushing for an entirely different sound that was still monstrously loud. They were (and still are) innovators, which is the biggest compliment I can pay them.
7 – After hearing Sol Invictus, do you a) hope and b) expect more new music from Faith No More?
I think continued output from Faith No More depends on how Sol Invictus is received at-large from the listening public. If the fans echo some of the negative reviews out there after releasing an album of this caliber, I wouldn’t blame the band if they said “fuck you all.” There is way too much negativity in the music scene, metal, in particular, and I’ll stop right there before I get stuck on my platform. Let’s just hope the fans dig Sol Invictus and even better, buy it.
8 – Faith No More have made a successful comeback and delivered new music. But do you think that there is a danger that the rock and metal scene is too reliant on big acts from the past for news and festival headliners?
Nature of the beast. The music scene’s in trouble and this is no news. Album sales figures are for squat and whether or not it bursts anyone’s illusions out there, music is a business. It’s a shame that sales figure success is now measured, not by gold and platinum, but by 5,000 to 10,000 for mid-tier acts and 20,000 for the upper stratum bands. That’s embarrassing, although any new band breaking into today’s market would give their limbs for 2,500 unit sales.
Thus, anything that works for the music industry will be tapped and exploited. The live forum is where the money’s made in music anymore, and even that’s a quandary where most bands use their merchandise sales to float from city-to-city in bare survival mode off of paltry per diems. The big festivals and high-profile rock clubs are merely looking for what band can lure the most amount of drinkers into their establishments. The sad reality is that successful tours are now measured by units of alcohol sales instead of albums and tee-shirts.
9 – You are also a comic book journalist. Faith No More famously tied up with Marvel for the launch of Superhero. Could you see any of these tracks as a Marvel movie soundtrack?
Well, I’m not (yet, anyway) a full-fledged comics journalist, though I have my Comic Books forum at ReadWave and have blogged about them often, just for fun. I’ve done a lot of networking with comics industry professionals recently and have made a few friends. My main goal is to be an actual comic script writer, and I’m getting very close to that, fingers-crossed.
That “Superhero” premiere and the interview Marvel editor Ryan Penagos did with Billy Gould was badass. Very smart marketing from both sides. I wrote in to Marvel immediately after reading that with my compliments. I like that Billy singled out Nova. Nova was one of the minor Marvel characters, like Moon Knight, Black Panther, Dazzler and Power Man and Iron Fist, who had cult audiences but never mainstream acceptance like Spiderman, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.
While the thundering grooves of “Superhero’s” verses are full of high octane energy, the song itself is more political and anticlimactic for pop comic book purposes. I’m always trying to match songs and albums in my head to comic books and movies; another one of my side dream jobs is concocting soundtracks for Hollywood films. For shits and giggles, I even came up with my own “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” for the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie. If I had to take one song from Sol Invictus for a Marvel movie, it would be “Separation Anxiety.” It might be pretty badass in a Doctor Strange flick, don’t you think? Or maybe a Venom solo shot film?