FAITH NO MORE
25 Years On: Angel Dust
by Pete Crigler
It was June 8, 1992. A normal day, the riots were over but the world was on edge. Into this chaos came an album. Not just any album, one that would change the face of alternative rock and become one of the most renowned and amazing records of the '90s. The album was Angel Dust and the band was Faith No More.
The day was usual for record releases. The only other notable records released that day was one by Del Amitri, the debut album from Catherine Wheel, another record by Glen Benton and his weirdoes in Deicide and the second album by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. Faith No More were three years out from the release of their breakthrough third album, The Real Thing. and the single "Epic" which had catapulted them into the national spotlight. Asides from a track on the soundtrack to Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the band had kept relatively quiet for the last year or so.
This was an interesting process because the record label was essentially kept out by the band and producer Matt Wallace. It was an all for one sort of deal and everyone was on the same page, at least for the time being. The band was determined to do something different, to think outside the box. After spending over six months in the studio, what the band emerged with was something altogether different.
The first single released was "Midlife Crisis" and it immediately blew up on MTV and modern rock radio. What people heard was altogether different from "Epic" and in many ways an entirely better song. Built around some great programming from Roddy Bottum and some innovative work from drummer Mike Bordin and guitarist Jim Martin. An atmospheric, dark video directed by Kevin Kerslake was all over television and hype about the record was building. A four star review in Rolling Stone, back when a review like that actually meant something, was very boastful in its praise of the record.
Then the day came in June when the record was unleashed on the world. Surprisingly, the album peaked at a lowly number 10 on the Billboard 200. Expectations had been a bit higher than that but looking back on it, until Tool, Slipknot or System of a Down, this would be one of the strangest and wildest records to reach the top ten.
The band went on the road for the next year, touring with everyone from Kyuss, Helmet and Babes in Toyland to Metallica and Guns 'n Roses. Singles came out for "A Small Victory" and "Everything’s Ruined." The former had a war-inspired video that didn’t do but so much for the album. If I had to pick a weak track on the record, it would be "A Small Victory." It’s still a good song but doesn’t hold up as well as every other track. "Everything’s Ruined," on the other hand has always been one of my favorite tracks, just full of vigor and energy.
What else can be said about an album containing songs like "Crack Hitler," "Be Aggressive" and "Jizzlobber?" The latter, co-written by Martin is one of the darkest pieces of music the band ever laid down and is one if the gnarliest tracks I’ve ever heard in my entire life. The two minute organ piece at the end is still awe inspiring. Hell, "RV" is about a piece of white trash ending his life but the band makes it seem so real and inventive. "Be Aggressive," which takes balls to do at karaoke, believe me, was written by Bottum about servicing his partner. The graphic nature of the lyrics were written to try and freak Mike Patton out, to no avail. It definitely is one of the most eye opening tracks on the record but in a funny way, it’s become one of my favorites on the disc.
Other tracks like the opener “Land of Sunshine,” a song I want played at my funeral is one of the best album openers I’ve ever heard. Pulsating with power, energy and aggression, still one of the band’s defining songs. Then kicking right into “Caffeine,” a freak-out of a track dedicated to sleep deprivation; the type of song that can drive you wild and rock you to your core at the same time. Just a song designed to freak anyone out but then again, damn near every song is like that, demanding endless repeats, including the album closer cover of the “Midnight Cowboy” theme. “Kindergarten,” sung from the point of view of a seemingly undereducated person is another type of song that screws with your system and what you had normally thought of as 'rock music.’
Then there’s "Malpractice," a track which to me always sounded a bit industrial. Built around some savage keyboard work and a sample from The Kronos Quartet, again the lyrical content was not what you would expect from a popular, hit making band. These guys were out to fuck with the system and even on stuff like "Smaller and Smaller," a song the band have never performed live, they still managed to outrank just about every other record that came out in 1992.
I was about seven when I first bought the album. My mother had purchased it on cassette at a Sam Goody. My mother knew that an album with a gigantic parental advisory sticker on it might not have been the best for her child but my mom also knew me very well. She knew I liked FNM and wouldn’t act on anything that I came to hear lyrically. To this day, I still think it’s one of the best decisions she has ever made. To this day, Angel Dust is still the best album I’ve ever heard, start to finish.
The album has been acclaimed by critics and musicians worldwide and has been heralded as the band’s highpoint, an album they would never be able to duplicate. Subsequent records in ’95 and ’97 failed to win back a fanbase that had essentially moved on. The band threw in the towel in ’98 and reunited 11 years later. The band still look back at the record as one of the most creatively rewarding times of their lives and for fans like me, it will go down as one of the strangest, bizarre and amazing albums ever to be heard.
Also see our article about Faith No More's career, our interview with former FNM guitarist Dean Menta and a tribute to FNM singer Chuck Mosley and an interview with Mosley's friend/biographer
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