Phil Weller gave on the best early reviews of Faith No More’s Sol Invictus for the Sludgelord site – “All you really need to know is this: ‘Sol Invictus’ sounds like Faith No More and no one else. It’s diverse, thrilling” – and he is our latest expert interviewee. Phil is a freelance music and sports journalist and the founder and editor of the excellent Manchester Rocks site (which also reviewed Sol Invictus recently). He has also written for Metal Hammer and Echoes and Dust and plays guitar in the prog metal band Prognosis.
1/ You reviewed the new album Sol Invictus for The Sludgelord – what is your overall verdict on the band’s return?
In terms of their return I think that, considering just how long it’s been since Album of the Year and the fact that they’ve been reunited for six years now, you couldn’t really ask for more. The album covers a huge spectrum of different sounds and textures – as we’ve come to expect from them – and I strongly expect the majority of FNM fans to be delighted with the record. Personally I love the contrast of dark songs like Separation Anxiety, Motherfucker and Cone of Shame with more upbeat songs like Sunny Side Up. As an album it ticked all the right boxes for me.
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’ve had the album for about a month now I think, it’s perhaps a little earlier than is normal practice but the general idea is to have the reviews helping promote the release date of an album. So the earlier the better in many ways.
I would agree that it’s a very complex album, there’s a lot of stuff going on, lots of minor details all over the place that, with more listens you do notice more, but at the same time the album clicked with me straight from the off. I had the biggest grin on my face when I first heard it; it didn’t take any time to grow on me. But the more I immerse myself in the album the more you appreciate the nuances; it gives you the opportunity to focus on a different instrument or detail. I think that’s one thing that makes the record so fun for me because every time you listen to it you discover another little Easter egg rather than everything coming at you in the first instance.
3/ You mentioned in that review that Faith No More remain unpredictable and that it is a record only FNM could have made. What makes them so unique and why has no one successfully followed in their footsteps?
That’s a tough one. I mean, they’re special in my eyes because they don’t really fit into any particular movement or scene; they’re very eccentric in the mixing of styles they use. Because of that, it’s impossible to predict where they’re going to go. If you listen to the opening song of every FNM album for instance, they all start with a great big bang with lots of guitars and energy but Sol Invictus is the complete opposite of that. It starts really delicately, really slowly. You’d think after so long out of the limelight as far as new muisc is concerned they’d need a gung-ho opening but the fact they didn’t fall back on that exemplifies just how unpredictable they can be.
I think the reason that no one has successfully followed in their footsteps is because either no one wants to or no one can. If you look at the other bands around them back in the 90s – Soundgarden, Alice In Chains etc. – they’re bands that are copied a lot nowadays. But I don’t think FNM have ever really had a signature sound which is replicable, I think FNM are FNM through Patton’s voice and the duality of the keyboards and guitars, through the personalities and mind-sets behind the music rather than what is actually being played.
Maybe I’m wrong here but, as influential as FNM have been, I don’t really think there’s a band that you could look at and place a dominant and direct corellation.
4/ So-called nostalgia acts including Faith No More dominate the lineup for Download and other festivals. How should older acts and up and coming bands co-exist?
This is a subject I could talk a long while about. As much as FNM are a nostalgia act, they haven’t been half as present as the likes of Metallica, Maiden and Slipknot on festival bills, particularly the headline slot. I think the problem is that nowadays festival organisers seem less willing to book what would be a ‘risky’ headliner like Avenged Sevenfold at Download last year was perceived to be. In reality, Avenged are a band with a huge following and are very well established – they’re hardly a ‘new’ band anymore – and I think the risk pulled off. Just as I think it will with Muse this year. Having a band like Metallica at your festival guarantees ticket sales but it doesn’t help nurture the longevity of metal’s elite as such. Bands only get to the stature of ‘festival headline worthy’ if they’re given a chance to prove themselves in the first place, just as it is with football, rugby or whatever, you’ve gotta give these up and coming talent big games to shown they can do it before people view them as worthy of a first team place. I’d love to see bands like Lamb of God, Machine Head, Mastodon and so on offered higher billing, alongside the older more established bands. Like you say, they have to co-exist. Metallica won’t be around forever so you could argue they should headline more while they’re still around but there can’t be a gap in size when they do call it a day, you want your Lamb of God’s, Five Finger Death Punches or whatever ready to step in their shoes.
I actually think Download are doing this well at the moment. This year for instance they’ve got Slipknot, one of the world’s biggest metal bands, Kiss, one of the world’s biggest rock bands and Muse who are a bit of a curveball. It’s a good balance and then you have bands like A Day To Remember given a big slot which should, just as Avenged did when they played under System of a Down in 2011, help nurture them to be ready to take the headline slot as the band grows that little bit more over time. I’m not a fan of A Day To Remember, but it’s great to see young bands given a bit more limelight.
Bloodstock are also great at this, with Machine Head, Lamb of God, Rob Zombie and Trivium all being given their first outdoor UK festival headline slots.
5/ You seem to be a fan of the band. Was it difficult to be impartial in your review or is that second-nature for you now as a writer?
I’d say it’s second nature now. One thing I have noticed is that, the more I review, the more albums I hear and the more gigs I see it becomes harder to impress me because I’ve seen much of what that particular band has on offer before.
I notice a lot of people’s first reviews are very superlative almost just because they’re excited to be writing about rock music, and as time goes on they become more balanced with their reviews. Let’s just hope that in 10 years’ time I’m not some miserable bugger repeating the line “music was much better back in my day.”
But yeah, I’m a fan of the band for sure. Sometimes you end up looking at a new album by a band you love through rose tinted spectacles which can kind of blind you in terms of taking negatives from an album, but I work hard to remain impartial.
6/ Do you think Faith No More are under-appreciated or misunderstood in the UK mainstream media? When the 80s and 90s are being fetishised we get grunge, Britpop, Madchester, Smiths, Cure, Stone Roses etc but FNM seem forgotten – any idea why?
Good question. Personally I’d maybe say it was down to the fact they are such a difficult band to pigeonhole. With the Stone Roses there was a whole explosion of the Hacienda scene around them and that was the same with Slipknot, Korn and so on with Nu-Metal. But FNM have never really fit into a category or specific movement – and writers and fans alike love to organise things into neat, easily understandable piles – and so they were maybe forgotten out a little bit more. It’s like having a load of toy cars in one pile, a load of toy soldiers in another then that one action figure on his own in the corner who gets neglected a little bit.
But at the same time that’s what a lot of people seem to be appealed by. It’s the same with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, no one sounds like them, they just are the Chillis. But no one forgets a truly great and truly original band and I think they’re reunion has sort of hammered that home. They’ve returned, found themselves a whole new fan base who weren’t around that first time as well as pre-existing fans or people who were aware of them in the 90s view them with a fresh perspective. I think Sol Invictus is definitely an album that should see them get a hell of a lot more credit.
7/ Is Sol Invictus one of your albums of the year?
I don’t know how many albums a year I hear, it’s scary to think of it really, but this is definitely one of, if not the stand out album of the year so far. It’s just so classy, so catchy, so intelligent. Like I said, there’s no one who sounds like FNM and that’s what makes them so special. It will take something ridiculously good to convince me that 2015 will see a better album. But time will tell. Mutoid Man, Royal Thunder and Wild Throne are on fine form right now.