Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. Today’s submission: managing editor Andrew Bonazelli squeals for Ministry’s Filth Pig.
“It certainly wasn’t Psalm 70” —Al Jourgensen, Decibel #037
It took three and a half years for Ministry to release the follow-up to Psalm 69, and most of the new mainstream fans the (more or less) duo made via Lollapalooza ’92 and 120 Minutes’ late-night rotation of “Just One Fix” and “N.W.O.” probably wondered if it was laid down in three and a half hours. And that’s one of a zillion things I love about this record. (Okay, one of, like, four things.) Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker could have opened wide and followed Gravity Kills, Stabbing Westward, Filter and God Lives Underwater into the radio-ready alt-industrial “big time.” Hell, all were clumsily operating from the template set down in late ’80s masterpieces The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste anyway. Instead, Ministry assembled an aggressively unlikeable 10-track face-fuck, and threw a guy wearing a meat helmet on the cover.
Mr. Meat Helmet dispassionately clutching his tiny American flag maintains Jourgensen’s longstanding commitment to really really blunt political commentary, which got pretty tired by interchangeable career-closing anti-Dubya trilogy Houses of the Molé, Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker. Other than that iconic (in my world) image, though, what little is discernible of the lyrics appears apolitical—an unfocused, slovenly fury that I generally quite prefer to hardcore lefty rhetoric. (I can get that from Facebook, thanks.) Al admitted to our own Andrew Parks that he did “a lot of it on my own—shooting heroin and playing my guitar.” This record sounds, uh, a lot like that.
Anybody who followed Ministry’s long, satisfying evolution from pre-fab dipshittery (Twitch) to holy-fuck electro-executioners (The Land of Rape and Honey) to straight-up industrial metal standard-bearers (Psalm 69) knew what to expect: breakneck BPMs, off-putting danceability, distorted riffage, disorienting samples. “Shooting heroin and playing guitar” took us just a bit by surprise. Although Filth Pig does ignite with the ear-raping “Reload,” in which co-producers Jourgensen and Barker managed to distill the sound of your kid sister whining for the entirety of a three-hour car trip into one two-and-a-half minute guitar track. But at least it’s a fair jumping-off-point from Psalm 69.
Then sludge. And I don’t mean Eyehategod sludge. Just toxic fucking spew. Six minutes worth of it on the title track, with about as fuckin’-a-right of a two-chord refrain as you can get. Unlike “Reload,” “Filth Pig”’s riff doesn’t sound like shitting broken glass—more like Quicksand or Faith No More. Moving on, if you like the mid-paced grind of “Lava,” good, ’cause that’s all you’ll be hearing for the next six and a half minutes (aside from a wildly obnoxious “Piiiiiiiiiigggggggyyyyyyyyy” sample that’s either the unfortunate influence of Gibby Haynes or Trent Reznor. Or heroin.)
By this point in 1996, most listeners either traded this thing for October Rust (good call) or just used it for lines/coffee, but it gets worse/awesomer. The isolated chug intro to “Crumbs” makes you think things are gonna get good—or at least familiar—but get ready to never hear it again, as another mid-tempo slog pounds along beneath a succession of Guantanamo-friendly cymbal crashes. The suicide march is broken up by one of Al’s few discernible, trademark burns (“You’ll eat a plate of shit covered in refried crumbs”), which is a big plus. Subtle modulations here and later on—in lieu of conventional choruses—reward repeated listens. If you’re a masochist. Which, in this case, I clearly am.
“Dead Guy” is as close as Filth Pig gets to accessibility, and after appropriately-titled formless rave-up “Useless,” a welcome break: isolated riff, ugly harmonic, tension-building doubling of isolated riff, and when the drums kick in to unveil a killer Meantime groove, a third guitar squalls menacingly to substantially darken atmosphere. If you can’t bear to listen to this fucker in sequence, or simply must cherry-pick shit that sounds like the Ministry you know and love, this and “Filth Pig” are where to start.
The rest of the originals are a blur of volatile unstructured soundscapes, from “The Fall” to “Brick Windows” and “Game Show,” the latter two unfortunately epitomizing Al’s “Let’s write endless, boring songs” approach before the aforementioned back-to-basics Dubya trilogy. As for the polarizing cover of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” which Jourgensen did on his own just to piss off Barker, all I can say is the same way that Harvey Danger or Sublime makes me wish Saddam had intercontinental nuclear capabilities in the ’90s, this is the total and wonderful opposite.
What a strange, uncompromising album. The one time I saw them tour off it, they were fucking god-awful. Go get it for like 50 cents on Amazon. Probably less.
2. “Filth Pig”
6. “Dead Guy”
7. “Game Show”
8. “The Fall”
9. “Lay, Lady, Lay”
10. “Brick Windows”it