Ministry was the first band that scared the shit out of me. Al Jourgensen and his henchmen released Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs (aka ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ) in 1992, a full year before I would hear death metal for the first time, but even when I finally did experience the likes of Morbid Angel and Entombed, they didn’t freak me out like Ministry did. The video for “N.W.O.” depicted scenes of war and civil unrest yanked straight from the nightly news, and Jourgensen walking through the smoke and rubble aftermath with his hands in his pockets, no fucks given about the world around him coming apart at the seams. This wasn’t the typical nonsense that heavy metal bands depicted in their videos, this was real fucking life.
Naturally, I ran right out and bought the CD at the first opportunity after seeing the video, only to discover that “N.W.O.” was just the tip of the iceberg. Psalm 69 is an album that happily wallows in the good ol’ US-of-A’s filth-ridden underbelly, exposing it to all those who dare to listen. From the heroin-fueled riff-hell of “Just One Fix” to the utter desolation of “Scarecrow” to the religious mania of the title track, it’s the soundtrack to the slow death of the American dream, forever fucked up beyond all recognition by an endless parade of diseased junkies, greedy assholes and delusional zealots.
I didn’t know at the time that Ministry had started life as a synthpop band, but in hindsight I can say that Psalm 69 is the album where Ministry became a full-fledged metal band. Sure, The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste saw the band going in a much heavier direction, but it was here that they truly embraced the riff. This no doubt had much to do with the recording debut of the late great guitarist Mike Scaccia, who’d previously held down the six-six-six-strings for Texas thrash overlords Rigor Mortis. Jourgensen might have been writing the riffs, but Scaccia brought them to life with precision and prowess, aided by one of the gnarliest guitar tones ever heard on a major label release.
As grim and gritty as Psalm 69 is, there are also some very surreal moments. “Jesus Built My Hotrod” is an over-the-top trailer trash rave-up that benefits greatly from a guest appearance by deranged Butthole Surfers vocalist Gibby Haynes. Then there’s “TV II,” which features a nonsensical rant from Jourgensen about connecting the “goddamn dots” while Scaccia shows off his ability peel off flesh-ripping riffs at ungodly speeds. The final pair of tracks, “Corrosion” and “Grace” plunge headlong into Ministry’s wildly experimental side; twin sonic clusterfucks of random industrial noise, mechanized drums and samples, more sound collage than actual song, ending the album on a bizarre, willfully anticlimactic note.
To this day, I still get more of an end of days vibe from Psalm 69 than I ever will from any black or death metal album, because while that shit is so obviously rooted in pure, over-the-top fantasy, Ministry knock you down and curb stomp you with patently ugly, fucked up reality.
So what did Ministry do for an encore after reaching a newfound level of popularity with Psalm 69? The most Ministry thing they could do; make fans wait an agonizing four years for a new album, and make that new album very, very different from the previous one. Enter the mighty yet highly underrated Filth Pig.
Arriving in January of 1996, Filth Pig was poorly reviewed by critics and disliked by fans, apparently for the heinous crime of not being Psalm 69 Part II. Whereas the previous recording was a speed metal killing machine, Filth Pig was an abrasive, sludgy descent even deeper into Ministry’s psychotic world. It’s as if the band reached back past thrash and speed metal to the genre’s Sabbathian roots, creating something that falls somewhere between Godflesh-ian industrial metal and the darkest doom. Although it’s my understanding that Jourgensen’s intention for Filth Pig was to create a more organic-sounding album, Ministry can’t help but sound mechanical with their exacting, trudging rhythms and loads of distortion.
I might have been in the minority, but I fucking loved Filth Pig when it came out. The title track and “Lava” were some of the heaviest songs I’d ever heard at that point; sure death metal might have been conventionally heavier, but most death metal bands didn’t have the big, noisy, crunchy/crushing production scheme that this album had. I’ve already made this point elsewhere, but it applies to Ministry as well, it doesn’t matter how heavy you intend your music to be if it sounds like it was recorded in a garbage can with wet blankets over the amplifiers. Filth Pig benefits greatly from Jourgensen and bassist Paul Barker’s ace production skills; when they weren’t punching you in the face repeatedly with the likes of “Reload” and “Brick Windows” they were suffocating you within the miasmal sounds of “Game Show” and “The Fall.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ministry album if they didn’t get a little weird, and things get pretty damn weird on Filth Pig with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” I’m not much of a Dylan fan and in my youth couldn’t stand Ministry’s version; I would skip the track every time it came on because to my ears it simply didn’t fit with the rest of the album. When I listen to the album now I’ll listen to “Lay Lady Lay,” but I still feel like it should have been the final track or a bonus/hidden track. It is pretty interesting for what it is though; I can’t think of another song I’ve heard that sounds like a cross between industrial metal and country music, and it adds another strange facet to the album, a respite/comedown from the slow-motion pummeling that came before it.
Ministry no longer scared me in 1996; I was seventeen as opposed to thirteen and had four more years under my belt of soaking up all the metal, punk and alternative rock I could get my hands on. However, that didn’t stop them from once again hitting me right between the eyes with the utterly damaging, oppressive record that is Filth Pig; a record that felt like the band were trampling the decaying remains of the world into the ground after they’d already burned it down to ashes and cinders with Psalm 69. Nope hope, no salvation, just a ten ton boot to the skull with “fuck you, die” printed on its sole.
THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums
1. Celestial Season – Solar Lovers + an introduction to THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums
2. Type O Negative – October Rust
3. Grand Belial’s Key – Judeobeast Assassination
4. Mayhem – Live in Leipzig
5. Helmet – Meantime
6. Metallica – Ride the Lightning
7. God Dethroned – The Toxic Touch
8. In Flames – Reroute to Remain
9. Ministry – Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs
10. Ministry – Filth Pig