‘He sleeps with both eyes open…’
Filth Pig is an understandably maligned and divisive album as it is by no means an easy listen. It marked a considerable departure from the three albums that preceded it, which were fusions of industrial music with rock and metal that had earned them critical praise and commercial momentum. Filth Pig meanwhile was met with negative reviews, a disappointed fan base and poor commercial performance. It could be called a trend-hop given some of the influences present and the departure from their trademark industrial metal sound, though other influences present and the resulting complete package points more towards an experiment that many would argue did not pan out. On the contrary, I firmly believe this to be a very successful shift in the band’s sound and one of their very finest albums; even if it isn’t iconic or influential like what preceded it.
There are a few different influences that run throughout the music here, but the foundation is essentially a significantly slower take on the industrial metal of Psalm 69, though Al’s vocals remain a uniformly distorted, harsh shout and there is little sampling to be found here. The pounding of the drum machine here occurs at a significantly slower tempo and the thrash-inspired guitar riffs of old have morphed into droning, lumbering sludge riffs, replete with guitar feedback, tremolo and a sense of melody that ranges from traditional to off to non-existent. Comparisons to Streetcleaner-era Godflesh can be made in how uncompromisingly heavy, slow and brutal the music is, though it possesses a significantly more melodic and human touch and a sense of groove that wasn’t present on that starkly mechanical effort. Sludge and alternative metal are the influences responsible for this – on many tracks here there are significant nods to Alice in Chains and Crowbar. Most of the music operates with this blend; a sort of heavy/sludge/industrial metal hybrid that is uniformly slow, droning and crushing. Following on from these influences the atmosphere here is relentlessly negative and dark, being a combination of the bitter world-hating of Eyehategod and early Godflesh as well as the drug-addled and meaningless self-loathing of Alice in Chains (fitting, given that Al’s heroin addiction fuels the darkness on display here.) Ultimately this combination is so effective thanks to simple yet evocative instrumentation and similarly blunt and effective lyrics. The songs here are haunting and powerful; conveying perfectly what was going through Al’s head at the time from laser-focused hatred of those who wronged him to unhealthy obsession with a past lover to drug-fuelled nonsense.
The album is remarkably consistent in terms of quality, tone and style, and throughout the album the production is excellent with the music boasting a massive, sludgy guitar sound and heavy, pounding drums that give the music a lot of punch, along with a great mix that lets everything come through clearly while not making the sound too mechanical or clean. ‘Gameshow’ stands out as being the most atmospheric, melodic, depressing and drawn out song on the album, even featuring one of the few instances of Al’s forlorn clean singing. This is clearly by design – to overload the album with strung out sorrow would reduce the impact of it. Most of the remaining tracks here are less sorrowful, harsher, more direct and more atonal takes on the same sound, most notably ‘Crumbs’, ‘Lava’, the title track and ‘Useless’. The opener ‘Reload’ is an even more direct and blunt take on this sound; it’s a fairly brisk and noisy track with a particularly crackling beat and a ruthless, vengeful attitude espoused in the lyrics.
A few songs towards the end here do have some other influences worked into them, however – ‘Dead Guy’ has an almost-rapped cadence to the vocals and a very Helmet-esque groove, and while it has the potential to be a tacky and misguided trend-hop it goes over very well, sacrificing none of the feel or songwriting quality present here. ‘The Fall’ is in some respects more in line with their older material, with its booming drum machine and less sludge-influenced riffing, though the gigantic guitar tone and the blunt, defeatist lyrics still makes it fit snugly into the album. Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ is transformed from a quaint country rock song into a coke-fuelled obsessive plea for a woman to stay the night – it stands out for its remarkably joyful riff during the chorus and the prominent acoustic guitar line during the verses, and is about as good a cover as can be as the band really make it their own, fitting in well here both thematically and musically. ‘Brick Windows’ is an uptempo psychedelic industrial/alternative metal track that juxtaposes its negative lyrics with its bizarrely upbeat, melodic main riff, giving a bittersweet and hypnotic note to end the album on.
It’s a shame Filth Pig is such a criticised album; it is understandable that many would be turned off by music that is so bitter, hopeless, self-loathing and otherwise negative but the sheer strength of the material here clearly never shone through for most. This is easily one of Ministry’s best albums: it’s an atmospheric masterpiece and a landmark album for the band and metal in the ’90s. This is not an album that grows on a listener quickly (it certainly didn’t for me), but give it time and plenty of listens and the music might just win you over.