Always a band whose music defied classification, Faith No More's sound over the years has variously been described as "heavy fusion," "metal rap," "rap metal," "jazz inflected punk rock," and, in the immortal words of another reviewer, "a hodgepodge of everything." These descriptions receded somewhat as the band's sound evolved in the 90s, but a lack of agreement in simply describing its musical approach persisted. Suffice to say, then, that FNM favors thumping drums, abrupt time changes. and a commendably intricate interplay between the keyboard and the guitar. On any given song, there's usually enough power chord crunching to keep metal enthusiasts hooked, but also enough restraint and tonal complexity to attract listeners who may not otherwise be tempted to put a track on their stereo which requires a nodding head and the de rigueur 0zzy hand salute immortalized by Beavis and Butthead.
For the most part, this holds true on the band's new disc, "Album of the Year". Tracks like "Helpless" and "Pristina" build slowly but solidly to impressive choruses, all the while switching between heavier-than-lead riffs and echoing keyboards. Singer Mike Patton meanwhile supplies lyrics which establish the trademark FNM mood of emotional despair. "Helpless" plays like a mellow track until the chorus, when the guitarsand Patton's harrowing crieskick in. "Pristina" is similarly subverted: just when you think the song might be a somewhat inspiring album closersomething to relieve all the darkness that has come before itPatton pledges to an unknown other that he will be with them. But the hopeless tone of his voicenot to mention the crashing chordssuggest this is an empty promise. "Ashes to Ashes" is easier to mosh to, but the band pauses here too for a moment of melancholia, peppering the bridge with shimmering, otherworldly guitar notes which could double as an inspired soundtrack for some galactic tragedy.
Which is not to say that the album is a ponderous gloomfest from start to finish. "Collision" is a lively thrasher; "Mouth to Mouth" delivers pop-flavored metal mayhem, and "Home Sick Home," with its rolling and unsettling rhythm, recalls some of the zanier moments from 1989's "The Real Thing". And yet the disparate styles of these tracks hardly detract from the sense that they all form a solid whole. FNM may indeed have a penchant for fusing different styles and genres of music, but here they achieve something that purists from other veins stumble across only rarely: a complete and coherent album.