The Death and Resurrection of Faith No More

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Faith No More bassist Billy Gould is relaxing at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Krakow, Poland. It’s a rare day off during the band’s month-long tour through Europe, and a much-needed respite after playing with Metallica the last two nights in Austria and the Czech Republic.

“We’re a weird band again when we play with them,” Gould says. “The crowd is like, ‘What is this?’”

It’s a fair question, as Metallica has made a career off cramming as many double bass fills and speed-of-light guitar solos into their winding epics as possible. The band’s blistering performances are just as much a test of sheer endurance as they are elaborate rock show. In stark contrast, Faith No More are known for their bizarre, yet undeniably catchy slabs of funk-metal.

The biggest difference is that Metallica has been defying the laws of aging for 34 years. Faith No More, however, supposedly died 17 years ago, only to be newly resurrected as one of rock’s most eagerly anticipated second acts.

Faith No More was never a band known for sustainability or predictability. After its first two albums—1985’s We Care a Lot and 1987’s Introduce Yourself—failed to scrape the charts, the band parted ways with Chuck Mosley to welcome Mike Patton, then the 21-year-old Mr. Bungle frontman who danced like Anthony Kiedis and howled like Axl Rose. The result was 1989’s The Real Thing, which, buoyed by the Top 10 hit “Epic,” eventually went platinum and transformed the band from underground sensations into MTV mainstays.

The band could’ve played it safe and recycled The Real Thing on its next LP. Instead, they followed it up with 1992’s Angel Dust, a sprawling work of avant-garde metal that was lauded by critics but misunderstood by the general public. Faith No More’s music continued to get weirder and more disjointed throughout 1995’s King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime and 1997’s Album of the Year, as the band struggled to maintain relevance and capture the magic of earlier releases.

By 1998, it was settled: Faith No More would be no more.

Fast-forward to 2009, when the band reunited for the aptly titled Second Coming Tour. “I think when we played onstage, it was like picking up where we left off,” says Gould, who after the band’s disintegration founded his independent label, Koolarrow Records. Meanwhile, drummer Mike Bordin hit the road with Ozzy Osbourne and Korn, and keyboardist Roddy Bottum scored several films and played with indie-pop group Imperial Teen. Lead singer Patton was busy playing with Tomahawk, Peeping Tom, The Dillinger Escape Plan and more, as well as co-founding Ipecac Recordings.

“They’re all very different directions,” Gould acknowledges. “And you have to figure out when you reconnect, how does that all fit together with what we want to do?”

Despite their success on the road, it remained unclear whether Faith No More would reenter the studio. “I think it was on everybody’s minds, but nobody really spoke about it,” Gould says.

About two years ago, he sent the rest of the band a demo he had been working on. Unsure of how they would react, Gould was pleasantly surprised by the unanimously enthusiastic response. Within two weeks, Faith No More had their first new song since 1997, and they took it on the road for their next tour.

The song was “Matador,” a dynamic, six-minute opus that serves as the penultimate track on the band’s newest album, Sol Invictus (which translates in Latin to “unconquered sun”), released in May. Anchored by a deliberately slow drum and bass groove and ominous keys, the song gathers steam slowly, swelling to near-cacophonous levels as Patton moves effortlessly from gravelly whisper to blood vessel-popping wail. It’s a stunning return to form that’s not just the best song on the album; it’s their best song since 1989’s “The Real Thing.”

The other nine tracks on Sol Invictus follow the template set by “Matador,” a conscious blend of old and new. All the classic Faith No More trademarks are still present—the powerful riffs, anthemic choruses, sinister atmosphere, and of course, the caustic wit (try finding another band that would call their first single in 17 years “Motherfucker” or dedicate an entire song to their ideal breakfast food).

But Sol Invictus is no nostalgia trip. “If it was all old and nothing new, that would suck. And if it’s all new, it’s not the band anymore,” Gould says. “So it’s really finding that fine balance where you can get the best of both.”

That balance can be hard to achieve in a market obsessed with hit singles and first-week sales, one that favors accessibility over artistry. The band played that game 20 years ago, and wasn’t keen on repeating it. So they set up a few mics in Gould’s studio, and what started off as informal jam session turned into writing and recording the entire album themselves, in complete secrecy.

“It was a pleasure not telling anybody. I didn’t even play the songs for my wife,” says Gould, who also produced the album. “In our previous experience, it’s like, ‘We gotta bring this guy in from marketing because we really gotta get them on our side, get them pumped up.’ And you’ve got this guy coming in here, and you don’t know where he’s coming from, and he’s got a Tom Petty sticker on his satin jacket, and you’re like, ‘Oh, God.’”

Rather than bow to record executives who would’ve preferred the band crank out another “Epic,” Faith No More wanted total control over their creative output. “It just seems like, if you’re there, you should try to claim as much of that as you can,” Gould says of the music. “It’s a little more work, but it’s yours.”

A little work went a long way: Sol Invictus debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200, their highest position since 1992’s Angel Dust.

It’s an astounding success for a band long presumed dead and forgotten. Gould attributes it to a musical climate that’s more diverse now than it was 25 years ago, as metal fans in particular crave music that pushes boundaries and is unprecedentedly heavy or weird. Ironically, this means the same bands for whom Faith No More paved the way are now their contemporaries.

“By and large, I kind of felt like people weren’t getting it back then,” Gould says of the band’s initial run. “And then we split up and people just cited us as an influence. To come back now, it’s really validating that after all these years, people still actually care about the music.”

They care so much, in fact, that Faith No More’s older albums, specifically The Real Thing and Angel Dust, are now considered touchstones of the genre. The one-time pack of mangy alt-metal misfits has gained icon status.

Still, it was important to everybody that this reunion be more than a half-baked greatest hits tour, where the band would bang out the same 15 songs every night. “I’m 52, but I still feel I’m not old enough to do that yet,” Gould says. “It’s a choice a band can make. People get married and they decide after 20 years they’re not in love with the person, and they just decide to keep going. It happens in life. And I don’t really want to pass judgment on bands that do that; I’m just not ready for that yet.”

But Faith No More is ready for a return to the United States at the end of this month, the second leg of their Sol Invictus Tour. They’ll be proudly showing off the fruits of their labor, a comeback that proves there is truly life after death.

“This record is kind of a funeral record and a rebirth record at the same time,” Gould says. “It’s called Sol Invictus, and it all kind of fits together with me. It’s all part of the whole package. It’s where we are.”

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