PIG – Risen – The Gospel – music review

PIG – Risen – The Gospel – music review

PIG is the industrial project of Raymond Watts. A former member of KMFDM, he developed PIG as his own band all the way back in the 1980s. The releases have been continually experimental and have managed to continue charting new territory. Of late, he has been incorporating blues sounds and criticisms of religion into industrial music with broader cultural commentary. The result is some of the most interesting and accomplished music of anyone in the last decade, and I do think it is his best work. After a long hiatus, The Gospel stands out as one of industrial’s best albums, incorporating blues sounds and themes into electro-industrial music in a way that builds a clear link to its rock and roll roots. The album manages to find powerfully dark themes and imagery straight from the blues. Certainly those impulses have always been a part of the blues, but goth sounds don’t always capture this linkage very well. Watts has made it front and center of the album and shows that gothic aesthetics are tied to a larger world of blues tradition as something vital for rock to express in dark industrial shades.

The Gospel is in my mind one of the most accomplished and important albums in industrial music. It does something that the genre really needed to see happen, which is to bring those foundational blues elements into a thorough and complete industrial framework. Watts uses this to house a strong rejection and criticism of religion, very often on a cultural basis of being immoral, depraved, and oppressive. He also mixes this with a larger attack on power structures as corrupted along similar paths. The brilliance comes in doing all of that with deep blues borrowings and progressions throughout an entire perfectly executed industrial album. It really is a massive accomplishment and in some ways is so smart that it might go right over some people’s heads. At the same time, the consummate musician who Watts is means the songs are entirely accessible and fun in the best industrial way. They groove and rock and are subversive danceable songs with the bleak pessimism Raymond brings to his music that is really as gothic as anything can get. It’s a very complete testament about the purpose of rock, where it came from, and where it can go next.

Risen

Risen is the sequel to The Gospel and retains its themes and some blues elements while going back to more electronic emphasis with aggressive guitar. Watts plays with the idea of rising from the dead as depicted in Christianity and makes witty commentary that focuses on how much life is built around the present rather than repressive stories of afterlives and coming back from death. We get one life and should make it count by enjoying it and doing impressive things. To use his earlier ideas, we should, “find it, fuck it, forget it,” instead of being religious. So Raymond twists the idea of rising from death into the idea of doing things during life. He also uses rising in the context of throbbing resurrection on his merch which is not a very religious idea but is very much part of the industrial audience for PIG.

Raymond Watts and Ben Christo of PIG
Raymond Watts and Ben Christo of PIG at 3 Kings in Denver, 10/2/18

Raymond had an important change of guitarists that happened between these albums. His previous guitarist had brilliant rock sensibilities and could play beautiful blues style guitar. He unfortunately was lost for a time due to illness (he has more recently played on brand new songs that are soon to be released), and this was an incredibly sad moment for the band as was obvious on social media with Raymond’s very heartfelt posts about his brilliant guitarist. After seeing Guenter Schulz perform, I deeply sympathize. He was a truly accomplished underground guitarist with unique ways of bringing rock tradition into industrial riffing.

The replacement, however, has been excellent. Ben Christo is a guitarist more in the style of metal, but with very creative flare alongside some classic rock influence. He has played in other bands besides PIG, including Sisters of Mercy and some others which are very important. He brought a good solidity to Raymond’s touring with a smaller lineup than was the case with The Gospel. The sounds work incredibly well, because the changes fit with presenting the other side to the ideas of The Gospel. The two albums stand as more complimentary with a lineup change coinciding with them, as it allows for some interesting adjustments to his themes and makes the two seem like bookends of a very large testament.

Truth Is Sin is a standout point on Risen. Watts does some amazing songs with dark inflection, haunting atmosphere, urgency and sadness at a slower tempo that sound about as perfect as any songs ever have to me. He is able to portray desire and disappointment very well on tracks like this. I was similarly impressed with Missing the Mailing on the tour for The Gospel. Performed live, he gave it an epic sense of sadness, need, and hope. The Vice Girls is a lovely track with a dark portrayal of desire from Risen. “A god and a goddess made for our time,” moves god into the gutter where Raymond thinks he belongs. Leather Pig has a wonderful bluesy sleaziness to it that shows how much Watts thinks we are destined to depravity rather than holiness. When I’m Done captures a beautiful dark portrayal of collapse with hope and flickers of light, and The Hangman’s Wooing does an important job of showing that rising only happens in the context of a finite life as we slowly march toward our inevitable deaths, mortal creatures who would be better off having a happy time while we are here.

The Chosen Few and Rise & Repent make the point of the album especially well. The few who have been chosen could easily be the 1% who stole everyone’s stuff and keep pushing the world towards militancy. “Apocalypse for one and all,” is a brilliant and memorable line that takes a traditional Christian idea and makes the point that people claiming to believe in religion have moved the world towards a real apocalypse as war fighting and environmental degradation become worsening spectacles. “There’s room enough in hell for you. We don’t need heaven crammed,” sounds a lot like the way Amerika tries to push people into impoverished misery while the fattest, most corrupt, and most violent people gorge themselves on things belonging to everyone else.

Prey and Obey came as a highly directed EP between the two albums as a nice addendum. The linkage between the three works shows that Watts is onto something serious with what he started in the The Gospel. The short number of new songs from the EP are some very hard hitting and well crafted tracks combined with remixes. He suggests that we are all being preyed on by moral fictions to make us obedient slaves, and the title track is a stunning takedown of religion for being a racist and bigoted fiction serving propaganda purposes. The band has been around for a long time utilizing the themes that are in the recent recordings, but they have become more unique and focused of late. Prey & Obey has some of Watts’ best lyrics, and the anger of its social descriptions is beautiful for its accuracy as he sings, “I’ve been blind but now I see, your bullshit, bile, and bigotry.”

Love is also  present on PIG songs though, and part of the beauty of the band’s sounds is that they can register angry complaints without ever being reduced to it. “You’re a hard machine to have, a hard machine to hold, a hard machine that hurts, and a hard machine that’s cold,” sounds ethereally beautiful on Hard Machine, as though Raymond is seeing straight through humanity in all of its fallen depravity. For Watts, we are all socially produced machines with synthetic souls, and we are made hard by deteriorated surroundings, but have far more worthwhile things about us, and PIG looks for that. The very recent Black Mass EP is also one of the most bluesy things from PIG and can’t be missed for its ability to keep the love in Christmas songs while making them sound like dirty satanic blues compositions from hell (with proceeds going to charity). I don’t know how long Watts will stay with the blues being the new industrial, but I love the experiment and appreciate how skilled and definitive he is at developing this.

Live Pig

He is also a consummate showman. The first time I saw PIG play, I was astounded by the degree to which he is a natural performer. Standing in front of the audience with a shallow depth floor at The Oriental in Denver, he was incredibly fun and friendly to interact with and managed to channel the key points of his songs into every stage movement and costume adjustment. It was a fun and oddly baroque display for an industrial show. Some musicians who have been around industrial for a long time like Watts and oHGr are able to bring incredible experience from the entire scene into very accessible live displays that show an intricately perfected performance art. It’s very moving and really something to learn from for how elevated their craft can be.

Raymond Watts of PIG

The tour for Risen brought new surprises. The main one was Ben Christo’s excellence on guitar after so much sadness over Guenter, but also the new album was an interesting followup on the ideas and sounds of The Gospel. It is hard to follow such a successful album, and Raymond built his new sounds around using the last album as a point to reintroduce stronger electronics as central to his songs and to expand on themes from the previous album more broadly and in larger cultural contexts, using more aggressive thundering guitar from Ben. It’s less a direct attack on religion itself than an attack on a miserable and corrupt society.  It uses a peripheral set of observations and complaints about social elements related to religion to do that, and it does it well. It’s a clever and successful turn, and it takes the electronic core of his best work from the early days when he sounded closer to his old band, KMFDM, and shows that to be where music needs to be at present with stronger rock directions and traditions guiding those compositions.

The Gospel is possibly the best album ever made about religion. It finds itself in an interesting place in a changing world where electronic sounds and techniques are becoming more important. Rock started as an analogue phenomenon, and industrial brought into it a large amount of electronics and commentary on culture as a synthetic product. Much like the punk scene, industrial rose partly with pessimism about the hopes of classic rock and its expressions of love and happiness. When it became increasingly clear that the world is a regressive place, rejecting the mainstream and embracing darker ideas came into prominence, almost as though industrial is a surreal underbelly of the rest of the world reflecting our darkest dreams within a dystopia.

The most magical performance I’ve seen was with Zmarr and En Esch. Watts clearly enjoys En Esch, who is particularly accomplished on the Spänk album but has a long underground shadow, and it made for some epic industrial guitar alongside Guenter. Zmarr, who was in Combichrist, handled keyboards with what is always some of the most accomplished synth playing around. He sounds like an evil alien spaceship, and with the dark takedown of religion from The Gospel, the sound was completely epic. Opening for Killing Joke and headlining 3 Kings, both in support of Risen, were also exceptional performances from PIG. Ben Christo was a thunderous presence on guitar compared to the more subtle rhythms of Guenter, and it made a smaller version of live PIG into a more direct and very exciting experience. I like both live versions of the band and thought the former was more in a blues direction to emphasize that side of The Gospel, while the latter showed the disruptive punk roots of industrial a bit more with Raymond on the attack for the songs from Prey and Obey and Risen.

It would seem that with such critiques of religious ideas that support the abuse of power, or perhaps its worship, Raymond Watts wants to deliver a followup which is a punk styled charge to get off our asses and stop putting up with being abused by a facade of lies. The albums very much create their own world, and Watts has built a strong and clear vision of industrial artistry having a place in western culture and its long traditions of producing repressive political facades which the roots of rock were always meant to tear apart. Blues developed from slaves responding to their misery and mistreatment and became one of the few authentic and original American art forms, something also captured well by One-Eyed Doll with their take on gothic blues sounds for their Witches album which is about the Salem witch trials and its victims of injustice. Industrial has an important job to do with incorporating electronic technology and self referential criticism to complete that quest for freedom which art has given to us.

I’m very excited about the important place of industrial music in the 21st century, and these albums from PIG help make the case for it. As western culture further decays after the misery of the Iraq war and 2008 financial crisis, and with fascism on the rise around the world even under analyses by mainstream press organizations, examining the ashes of our decayed civilization is an exciting project that industrial sounds are well equipped for. Indeed, academic fictions presented numerous stories about the liberalization of the world and moves towards equality which are all provably false at this point. The predictions that turned out correct were made by artists such as Trent Reznor and Al Jourgenson who warned of money and corruption spreading fascism, war, and social collapse as the destiny of the future. Now we live in it, and it’s fortunate that we have someone like Raymond Watts around to complain about it. Hopefully his gospel can help save us from more horrors.

PIG
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