Album of the Day: Ministry’s Filth Pig
The generally agreed-upon career arc of Ministry seems pretty rock-solid: started out as a goofy synth-Goth band; put out some hugely influential and noisy industrial records; made the definitive industrial metal album two years before The Downward Spiral with Psalm 69; Al Jourgensen got lost in heroin (um, again) and made a few hazily boring records; Paul Barker left, Al cleaned up, and closed out the band with a throwback trilogy of electro-thrash releases (then they came back and put out the worst music of their career, but pretty sure we’re collectively ignoring that). Basically, early triumphs, big triumph, lull, big finish. The album that seems to have started that lull is the misunderstood Filth Pig. And admittedly, it sounds lazy and simultaneously over- and undercooked when compared to Psalm 69. But coming back to it more than a decade and a half after it’s release, it blooms into something else entirely. You could argue it was the band’s attempt to fit into the rapidly homogenizing alt-rock scene at the time, or that tensions within the band caused them to put the whole thing into cruise control. But neither of those actually matter, as Filth Pig is just really fucking good.
Yeah, it lacks doomsday machinery of “N.W.O.” or “TV II” or the charred epic of “Scarecrow,” but the focus and tangibility of Filth Pig makes it an oddly appealing noise rock record (maybe they all agreed to stop pretending they weren’t ripping off Big Black). Ministry had yet to sound this much like an actual band; even The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste was a little too gonzo to give the impression that it was being produced by a roomful of people with instruments. The trebly aluminum guitar tone, that ugly snare drum, and Walker’s muddy, dub-steady bass were all consistently present and front-and-center on Filth Pig. The band’s previously hodgepodge nature suited them wonderfully, but that’s not to say this version is anything to write off. While it may lack the intensity of their more confrontational work, what showed up in its place was gruff, abrasive, and surprisingly nimble.
The one-two punch opening of “Reload” and the downright doom metal title track set the table perfectly: everything’s scaled back to its basest elements, from synths to tempos. What follows is often subtly surprising. “Lava” has more sneer and sass than most any other of Jourgansen’s strung-out trolling, “Useless” and “Game Show” are anthems of frustration and defeat (without sounding whiny, of course), and “Brick Windows,” Filth Pig‘s closer, borders on poppy with shoegaze seeping in through the blinds. Then there’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” which manages to turn the track enough on its ear to make it their own (and one of their most likable songs). The record’s an anomaly in Ministry’s catalog: a stripped down but strong collection of songs adhering to the band’s nails-on-a-chalkboard aesthetic. Like an idiot, I wrote it off for a decade-plus. But Filth Pig‘s shit-stained soul is something that could easily appeal to you after a few years of adult drudgery and repetition. Maybe this was their last great album instead of the start of their prolonged decline.