Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Album Review: Ministry - "Filth Pig" (1996)

Filth Pig

Psalm 69 comes out. Suddenly, for what seems like five minutes, Ministry becomes one of the biggest bands on the face of the earth for every metalhead and angry alterna-rocker kid who ever watched MTV. Lots of festival-headlining and sold-out arena touring. Soon it became time to give the people a follow-up. What was delivered obviously did not fit the needs of the public, who responded to it with scorn. Personally, I'm not sure what their expectations were, because for a band with as much evolution between albums as Ministry, Filth Pig doesn't seem like much of a leap from Psalm 69. People just don't like change, it seems.

Being one of the most maligned albums in Ministry's catalog, I suppose it's not exactly difficult to see why the fanbase responded so poorly to it. Its sound has become a sort of plodding industrial doom metal, with sinister Black Sabbath riffs and thick, sludgy songwriting and production. No speed solos here. The band had experimented with this to an extent on the previous album with "Scarecrow", now most of the tracks follow a similar format, but with lower tuning. Many fan reviews I have seen criticize the album for a perceived lack of electronics or samples, but they're used just as much as the previous album. They're simply more subtle, spaced-apart, or buried in the deceptively multilayered mix, and they attain a very eerie feel for the careful listener. Basically, where a few of the previous albums said more of something like "sci-fi action sequence", this one groans more to the tune of "depressed crackhouse visit and subsequent overdose scene". Kind of like a more radio-friendly, more-polished and more complexly-mixed industrial Eyehategod, if you will.

Our lineup for tonight includes (of course) Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker as primary songwriters and men-about-town, with Louis Svitek and the ever-trusty Mike Scaccia on guitar and Duane Buford, previously of side project Revolting Cocks, on electronics duties. Longtime drummer Bill Rieflin recorded about half of the album but quit to head for greener pastures (particularly, to play on some incredible Swans albums) and was replaced for the other half with drummer familiar to the Touch & Go scene in the 80's, Rey Washam (previously of noise rock bands Scratch Acid and Rapeman, among others). Considering, like with most Ministry records, you don't really get much of a sense of who did what and where, it's hard to rate the band on individual performances, but Rieflin is excellent as usual in the tracks he plays on, and it's kind of funny and odd that the album pretty much plays directly against Scaccia's strengths as a guitarist, being slow and trudging as opposed to the speedy technical thrash-wank he's known for, but the guitar all sounds good so I suppose it worked out.

There are some very good tracks on here... The first track, "Reload", opens the album with a track whose tempo almost creates the feeling of whiplash compared to the rest of the record. It's a manic, frenzied song that sounds like the score to a Peckinpah gunfight scene on acid. The title track, immediately following, is a crushingly powerful track that should be a doom metal classic. It has an amazing evil riff and a wonderful use of harmonica in one part. "The Fall" is another great slab of doom metal that almost sounds like a Type O Negative song, with a sweet abrasive riff and beautiful piano work. And of course there's the big favorite of the album, the heavy reworking of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay".

The songs evoke this odd feeling, like visiting a dive bar in a small desert town like a rejected child of Vegas, getting extremely intoxicated, and witnessing (or participating in) an orgy of violent criminal behavior. Like A Clockwork Orange high on heroin in addition to what was in that milk the droogs were drinking. Al Jourgensen's lyrics are at perhaps their most abstract and hopeless, most seeming to be about struggles with addiction or other things of that nature. There's certainly political commentary on here but it's way more subtle than usual with this bunch. One of my favorite things about the album is how, as I said earlier, it's more deeply-layered than people give it credit for being. This is really an album that rewards paying attention. The deep rolling bass and the grinding guitar and the small echoing guitars wailing off to the side and the dim, tinny samples being rhythmically repeated in the background and Al Jourgensen's static-riddled voice scratching the air give the album a very amazing, distinctive atmosphere that's easy to get absolutely sucked into.

Really, I find the story with this album to be tragic... It was so horribly panned, alongside the band's other few successive albums' attempts to try new things, that when Barker jumped ship, Jourgensen felt the need to try and revisit the successful format of Psalm 69, only make it more mainstream sounding... And what's more, that he found success doing that, and so did it again... And again after that... And allowed Ministry's usually-evolving sound to stagnate in mainstream mediocrity. I still love this album... You've got to be more in a certain mood (or state of mind) to get the absolute most out of this album than you would with some of the previous stuff, but it's a great record all the time. And it's better than the whole Bush trilogy.


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