FAITH NO MORE; “Angel Dust"<i> Slash/Warner Bros.</i> ; * * *

Faith No More ends its fourth album with a straightforward rendition of John Barry’s bittersweet “Midnight Cowboy” theme--an appropriate choice given how immersed the preceding songs are in the same kind of sad seaminess as the film, with imagery of sex and disease at the forefront (and not necessarily just as trendy AIDS metaphor). What the movie had in the midst of all its squalor that Faith No More doesn’t is a heart. That’s a limitation for the album, but it makes the howl seem that much louder.

Despite the surprising mainstream success that greeted the group’s last effort, “The Real Thing,” with its MTV staple “Epic,” this album is, if anything, even darker and more grueling overall. The combination of hard-core metal riffing, rap-attack vocal cadences, slap-happy bass-as-percussion and quasi-choral/horror-movie synthesizers no longer carries the charge of innovation it once did--and there’s no single standout track this time--but the visceral potency is relatively undiminished. This is an underbelly with some pretty tight stomach muscles.

The songs cover everything from parental distress (“Everything’s Ruined” and the Tom Waits-ish “RV”) to stardom seen as some kind of gruesome psychic surgery (“Malpractice”) to Nietzschean devouring (“Be Aggressive”) to dope (“Crack Hitler”) to sexual guilt (the harrowing “Jizzlobber”). Try to imagine Ratso Rizzo, alive in the ‘90s and banging his head in that apartment of his to this generation’s Black Sabbath.