Alright, everybody, for this episode of A Scene In Retrospect, let’s all get weird together, okay? Because if any single album out there deserves that incredibly specific effort from our side, then it’s the one we’ll be covering today for your reading pleasure: Angel Dust by the inimitable and irreplacable Faith No More. So strap in and keep your wits about you, as It Djents writer/editor David and staff writers Andrew, Ashley and Chris (who is credited below under his nickname, Vigz) rant and rave about this masterpiece of alternative music/metal. Enjoy!
Crafting a follow-up to the breakthrough hit The Real Thing was always going to be a challenge. Never one to follow a trend, Faith No More turned around, gave us the finger, and created something completely different. Angel Dust is challenging, poppy, grindy and dirty; an album that deserves to be recognised as a true classic. It reflects the dichotomy of the cover art: the beautiful white heron on the outside and the bovine slaughterhouse on the inside echo the commercial ‘happy’ gloss surface of the band that encases the dark heart inside, where the avant-garde lives.
Sure, the radio-friendly hits are still there with “Kindergarten”, “Midlife Crisis”, and “Be Aggressive”, but the whole album is peppered with disdain and filth. From the madcap laughing in “Land of Sunshine” to the Zappa/thrash mashup of “Malpractice”, I’m never quite comfortable, always on edge, feeling unsettled. I might be singing along with the choruses, but inside I’ll feel a little bit sick. On top of that, Patton’s distinctive sneering and critical lyrics add to the feeling that something isn’t quite right with this band.
For me it was always a shame that ‘Big’ Jim Martin was not happy with the process on this album. He was the link between 80’s thrash and the 90’s alternative that I loved and made them both feel solid. Just when everyone else in the 90’s decided that thrash was untrendy (grunge, I’m looking at you, kid), Martin embraced it wholeheartedly. His truly heavy guitar sound and old-school riffing gave the band a powerful sound that many of their contemporaries lacked. Even on this album, his work on “Everythings Ruined”, “Smaller and Smaller”, “Caffeine”, and “Jizzlobber” still shines through and makes me want to mosh.
On the more laid back end of the spectrum, tracks like “RV” and “Midnight Cowboy” point towards the lounge music sensibilities that Patton would explore more in his various side projects. These tracks don’t feel throwaway, they’re a core part of the album that would be sorely missed if they weren’t included. This album is the sound of Faith No More, unedited and at their best. It’s not often I’ll say a 60-minute album has no filler, but this is one of them.
I’ll finish with this: we all like to compare the sounds of bands to each other, just like ‘For Fans Of‘ with our reviews. We always say ‘sounds like Led Zep mixed with Black Sabbath‘ for example. However, like those other genre-defining greats, if someone asked me to describe what FNM sounded like, I would say ‘Faith No More‘. They have no comparison. If you’ve ever been in doubt that they were the most original of the bands to emerge during the late 80’s/early 90’s, check out the Live at Brixton Academy video to see just how fresh they were. Also Mike Bordin and Billy Gould are one of the classic rhythm sections ever to grace a rock stage.
There is nothing else in the world like Angel Dust.
In 1992, at the height of Faith No More’s success, the band put their popularity on the line to follow their guts and create an album that carried virtually no attributes of 1989’s The Real Thing, and was far less accessible to a mainstream audience. That gamble ultimately proved that Faith No More were built to last, and that no musical corner was beyond their reach. It was also the first album where Mike Patton was allowed a stronger creative influence, and the last one to feature legendary guitarist Jim Martin.
Gone was the slap-and-pop funk metal which propelled the band towards commercial success. Angel Dust was a seething, dark, humorous, and intense piece of work which had the range to unite casual pop rock audiences with brooding underground elitists. It was a kind of leveled-up 2.0 version of Faith No More’s Chuck Mosley-fronted debut We Care A Lot, equally as sinister and with the same disregard for convention. It’s still a mystery to me how songs like “Caffeine”, “Midlife Crisis”, and “A Small Victory” were even conceived, let alone delivered with such catchiness and a seemingly effortless merging of influences.
But the aforementioned hits, as well as the iconic Lionel Richie and John Barry covers, are only the tip of the Angel Dust iceberg. Let’s also give a shoutout to the more obscure tracks of this album. For instance, the slothenly Mario Bros-inspired trailer park anthem “RV”, the bone-crunching metal screamathon “Jizzlobber”, and the marvelously dramatic “Malpractice”, a song so malicious that Mike Patton took it all the way to The Dillinger Escape Plan with him.
Musically, Faith No More would never be the same after this album. Many critics marked it to be the band’s demise. But it instead, it earned them new levels of respect. Although die-hard fans can rightly state that each FNM album is a treasure in its own right, there is no denying that Angel Dust is the quintessential treasure that made their long-standing career that much more legendary.
One of the great things about being born in 1971 and not being dead yet is having had the privilege of being a witness to the scene when major albums like Angel Dust were released. The backdrop in which Faith No More dropped their fourth album was a crucial time, both for them and for the scene in general. They seemingly came “From Out of Nowhere” in 1989 with The Real Thing, and unlike the many alternative rock albums that were aggressively marketed as ‘metal’ to appeal to that crowd, Faith No More’s third album was not only good, it had legitimate crossover appeal to the metal scene. Credit Jim Martin’s guitar-playing for that. Add in the diverse vocal stylings of Mike Patton, and we had something original. The band I saw opening for Voivod and a somewhat obscure outfit from Seattle called Soundgarden in 1990 was clearly going places. And by June of 1991, everyone in the scene, from hair metal poseurs to death-thrashers, was gagging for Faith No More’s follow-up to The Real Thing.
Angel Dust would have been a shock to anyone who had not heard the self-titled debut album by Patton’s high school band, Mr. Bungle. It shared that album’s carnivalesque vibe, but had the acidic, earnest musical vision of five people whose virtuosity was now confirmed. Angel Dust’s devotion to funky rhythms, with the guitars de-emphasized, let us know this was not a ‘safe’ follow-up to The Real Thing. The profuse use of samples was something more commonly associated with rap music; the slick production reportedly used 48 tracks, which was almost unheard of at the time. Angel Dust was the most commercial alternative metal album – or conversely the most experimental mainstream album – of 1991.
I heard it, and proclaimed ‘this is the first album of the 90s.‘ Everything we had heard from January 1990 up to June of 1991 was a rehash of 80s musical tropes. Fath No More’s Angel Dust was new, bold, and different. I had no idea it would be seen as an immortal milestone 26 years later. Listening to it now, it seems obvious.
I generally refer to Faith No More as weird. It’s a label that they’ve consistently been deserving of over their lifespan. Angel Dust deserves special mention, as it was their most eclectic album, forming a metaphorical middle finger to expectations after releasing The Real Thing, which put them on the map with their biggest single ever, “Epic”.
FNM isn’t a comedy band, but they are frequently humorous and tongue-in-cheek with their approach to lyrics and themes. “Be Aggressive” features cheerleaders reciting a sports culture staple chant, but lyrically, the song is about oral sex. “RV” is off-beat Middle America satire through the lens of cynicism and dark humor-tinged self-hatred. Patton’s voice is capable of contorting from an Elvis-like croon to a disheveled everyman gruffed up by copious drags from Marlboros in the same damn song. Elsewhere, he screeches like a banshee, a sound he’s honed over the years, culminating in his recent work as vocalist for Dead Cross.
The eccentricities extend well into the instrumentation, from an upfront Beastie Boys sample (“Midlife Crisis”) to reverb-heavy surf rock that would become the basis for the album California by Patton side-project Mr. Bungle (“RV”). FNM never adhere to a single playbook, and that’s what makes them so weird and important. Angel Dust was the seed that sprouted forth Patton’s wild side that he then explored with other bands. FNM’s subsequent albums, while still not quite by-the-book conventional, did rein things in a bit.
I think the big takeaway from Angel Dust is that under the mainstream hood of 90s music, there were artists looking to do their own thing, even in the face of impending fame and expectations. Even if they have releases you don’t like as a FNM fan, it’s hard to deny their touch on wild and different rock and metal scenes.
That’s all for now folks! Hopefully this episode of A Scene In Retrospect was as enlightening/entertaining to you as it was fun for us to look back on this very special record. Speaking of, what are your thoughts on Angel Dust? Are there any particular bands or albums you’d like to see included in this feature? Leave it all in the comments!
See y’all again in fourteen days for another short stroll down memory lane. Until then, make sure to stay safe out there, and as always…
…thanks for reading!