Angel Dust

Faith No More

Slash /Reprise Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


I want to make full use of this space to proclaim what I have started believing over the past five years or so, and something that has only become stronger over time: Angel Dust is one of the most path-breaking rock records of the nineties. It is also gravely overlooked, in terms of the influence it has had on contemporary rock music.

Angel Dust was created when grunge was at its most lucrative. It was the time when the "Seattle" sound was what bullied the music scene, and every aspiring rock band wanted to become a part of the cluster of "Seattle" bands that the early nineties was so famous for. It was during that time that Faith No More (FNM) came up with the funk-rap-rock-grunge package of Angel Dust.

Rock music with keyboards and rap vocals, which is what grunge has turned into, was not the same thirteen years ago. Though rap-rock music had a mainstream presence, like that of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Beastie Boys, etc., the more intense "hard rock" facet of rock was still pretty much dominated by the rhythm guitar and singers with baritone vocals who could scream really really well.

Angel Dust is grunge and far beyond. Its aggressive rhythm section is the most prominent feature of its sound -- which is the case with grunge music itself -- and the FNM has a vocalist who can not only hit bassy notes, but does an awful lot more. In its smart grunge sensibility, Angel Dust could also cleverly include rap, funk, and gothic keyboard layers seamlessly. FNM did this earlier with my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Real Thing; but while The Real Thing was aggressive and more commercial, Angel Dust is darker and more intense, and a more difficult record to have a damned instrument like the keyboard enhancing the firing powers of its guitars rather than acting as a mellowing agent trying to give the music a sense of melodiousness.

The most amazing part of this album is that it does not sound "industrial" or badly synth-laden. It sounds like a pure hard-rock record, and the keyboards and the funk vibes stand out too, but without making the album sound too polished; the stinging rawness is still maintained.

The album is crazy. Every song on the LP has each member contending with each other to punch the listener black n' blue. The tunes are contorted and sound as if played by people on dangerous adrenalin levels. No number proceeds the way it starts and ends the way it proceeds. The record is, to put it plainly -- and in a manner that is befitting -- fucked up; messed up badly in the head.

Today's funk-rock acts show anger of the type kids do when they are denied something by their parents. Their angst gets so unnerving at times that you feel like smacking them on the buttocks, preferably with a whip on fire. FNM's anger, on the other hand, is unlike anything in today's rock scene; it is the whip on fire smacking into buttocks and anything else that gets in its way.

Singer Mike Patton's vocals are among the best in rock. He switches between rap, baritone rock singing, mindlessly possessed screaming, and cadaverously cold mutterings with the minimum effort and maximum efficacy. On "RV," Patton -- presumably on a high dose of meth -- ends the song speaking with an air of cheesy nonchalance "I think it's time I had a talk with my kids / I'll tell 'em what my daddy told me / You ain't never gonna amount to nothing," and the whip cracks hard. It cracks harder and more painfully on the song about progenies "Everything's Ruined," which goes like this: "We were like ink and paper / Knew arithmetic so well / We had to multiply ourselves / Baby became a fat nickel so fast / Then came puberty / But he made us proud / He made us rich / But how were we to know he was counterfeit / Now everything's ruined," and on "Kindergarten" ("Kindergarten / Born late / Will I graduate / Drinking fountains are shorter than they used to be / the swings on the playground don't even fit me anymore").

FNM wanted to let out its aggression by having fun with its music, and hence sounds honestly angry. On the other hand, the funk-rock emo buffoons on today's modern rock charts want to be all aggressive in letting out the anger they do not have in the first place, and end up making fun of their music instead. FNM inspired a music genre that is now putting itself to great shame.

Angel Dust is a must-buy rock album, recommended not for rockers looking for self-pitying angst, but for bold adventurers who are fearless enough to try rock music that's an unpredictable and frantic juggernaut.

Rating: A

User Rating: B-



© 2005 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Slash /Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.