In with the old: What makes Faith No More such a great band

  • Sanjoy Narayan
  • Updated: Jul 30, 2016 18:36 IST
Mike Patton, Faith No More’s frontman, can not only sing in Italian and Spanish, but also has a stupendous vocal range (Getty Images)

I can’t pinpoint exactly why I reached out for Faith No More’s Live in Germany album last week. Faith No More’s music is supposed to be hard, heavy and is usually classified as alternative metal, not a genre that I naturally precipitate towards. But I did. Maybe it was after reading about the incredibly stunning vocal range of the band’s frontman Mike Patton — he is gifted with a six-octave vocal range; maybe I’d had an unsettling few weeks of travel, was getting used to an unfamiliar new routine, and had just taken a devil-may-care dive into uncharted waters; or maybe it was just a classic eff-you kind of moment — of the what-the-heck-let’s-listen-to-something loud sort.

Live in Germany is an album that came out after the California band, whose first inning spanned 1979-98, reunited in 2009. The gig in Germany (or gigs; I’m not sure whether it was one or more) was as I had expected: boisterous; full of lively frontman-to-audience interactions, including one instance where the band didn’t begin a song before Patton had shushed them into silence; and the songs were full-bodied. The playlist included the band’s hallmark Caffeine; Be Aggressive; and Epic. But it also had their cover of Lionel Richie’s Easy (remember Richie’s “Easy like Sunday morning...”? Don’t miss Patton’s metal version). I’d have loved it if Black Sabbath’s War Pigs was on the playlist (Faith No More do a great version of it) but then there was enough banter, including a riff over a one euro coin someone had thrown at the singer and another about who was overdressed — the band or the audience, to keep me entertained. But best of all, they did Evidence, a jazz-meets-disco-meets-metal song that Patton chose to sing in Spanish.

That’s the thing about Faith No More. Their music is influenced by elements from a gamut of other genres — R&B or jazz or funk could pop up in their songs as casually as gospel or even disco. I then read about Patton who appears to be a different sort of heavy metal musician (his sole drug of choice is caffeine, by the way) who has a repertoire that includes a vast range of projects and genres. My next stop was to listen to him singing Che Notte in Italian off his solo album Mondo Cane, which is recorded with a 40-piece orchestra and a big band and whose song list is a reinvention of Italian oldies. Patton, incidentally, is fluent in Italian and also sings in Spanish. Besides, his huge vocal range allows him to growl and croon; sing in falsetto or vocally simulate a beatbox; and do other things with his voice without the aid of technology that few singers can think of.

Then there are his projects. From Mr. Bungle, an early experimental rock band that he formed while in school (he’s 48 now) to Fantomas, a supergroup that draws members from Slayer, Mr. Bungle and Melvins; from Tomahawk (another supergroup drawing its members from metal bands) to the mathcore band, Dillinger Escape Plan, Patton dabbles in a lot. I found it good to start exploring his work with Faith No More albums. The Live in Germany one, for sure, but also all of the studio albums. There’s a lot to choose from but if you do as I did, you’d go for 1989’s The Real Thing (it has the War Pigs cover), 1995’s King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime (if you’re feeling particularly angry about something or someone, check out the very satisfying The Gentle Art of Making Enemies); and their most recent, last year’s Sol Invictus (listen to Cone of Shame, a gradually developing blast of heavy metal). And then, as I said before, you could contrast all of this with Patton’s Mondo Cane. Or better still, go to YouTube and watch him do the entire album live in Chile at the Teatro Caupolicán in Santiago (it’s in HD, btw).

Like many great bands, Faith No More is often underrated and Mike Patton not as well-known as he ought to be. As for Faith No More, many later bands, including Nirvana, Slipknot, Alice in Chains, Guns N’ Roses and even, ahem, Metallica, have acknowledged the band’s influence on their music. All the more reason to check them out. Okay, not a metal fan? Then pick just one song by Faith No More as a taster. My tip: choose Epic, which is among their most popular. There. Hooked?


Jeremy Steig, who died in April this year, made the flute sound so wonderfully different (Getty Images)

Just as my immersion into Faith No More and Mike Patton’s work was getting deeper, I got a new lead in my efforts to discover more music. Jeremy Steig was an American jazz flutist who died in April this year. I’d never heard of him and was pointed to his work by a friend who’s a big fan of Steig’s late father William Steig, a celebrated cartoonist (creator of Shrek and prolific contributor to The New Yorker). The lead came with two albums — Fusion from the early 1970s and Howlin’ For Judy from 2008. I put on Howlin’ first and within seconds got blown away by what I’d never thought a flute could sound like. I’m still in the throes of discovering Steig’s music. Those two albums are now on constant repeat on my playlist. And I’ve delightedly found that from the early 1960s to 2008, his discography is gargantuan. That’s not counting his considerable other work as a sideman. So much music is right out there!

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