Released in the summer of 1992, Angel Dust was the fourth album by Californian alt-rock band Faith No More. The group’s roots stretched back to the post-punk days of 1979, when several members traded as Sharp Young Men before settling on their final moniker in 1983. As Faith No More they went through numerous line-up changes (briefly featuring the singers Courtney Love, later of Hole, as well as Paula Frazer, later of Tarnation), and had cult success with their second collection, 1987’s Introduce Yourself. Two years later, the funk-metal classic The Real Thing provided the band with their real breakthrough, boosted by the presence of a young Mike Patton on vocals. Patton was a precocious talent, who’d already been working with the curious Mr Bungle, and he helped propel Faith No More to platinum status with the lithe From Out Of Nowhere and the lively, semi-rapped Epic, the band seeming radically contemporary compared to the stodgy hair metal filling the airwaves at the time.
Listen to ‘Angel Dust’ here.
While only the lyrics for The Real Thing were provided by Patton, he had a more overriding influence on its operatic, multimillion-selling alternative-metal follow-up, Angel Dust. Despite sticking to compact track lengths, the album took Faith No More on an ambitious change in direction, as reflected in an array of sample sources that included 60s folk-rock rockers Simon And Garfunkel, The Wizard Of Oz and, reputedly, industrial legend Z’EV. This stylistic shift would lead to band mainstay Jim Martin leaving the group, but it would also prefigure Patton’s helming of the esoteric and varied Ipecac label (whose artists included the grunge mavericks Melvins). The other players on the record were early joiner Roddy Bottum on keyboards, and original members Mike Bordin on drums and Billy Gould on bass; producer Matt Wallace returned, now aiming for a weightier bass tone than the one he’d captured on The Real Thing.
The connection between Angel Dust’s title and slang for the risky drug PCP summed up the often downbeat record’s attempt to find beauty in horror – something underlined by the angelic pose of a heron on the front of the sleeve, contrasted with an image of an abattoir on the back.
An unholy mash-up
Angel Dust begins with the funky but progressive and grandiose Land Of Sunshine, whose soaring vocals reveal an unholy mash-up of fortune-cookie aphorisms and lines from Scientology tests. The first of Patton’s experiments with writing while deprived of sleep, the song offers immediate evidence of the album’s individualistic lyrical concerns. Caffeine, the questing, episodic second part of that diptych, follows close on its heels.