The term “industrial” has been sloppily kicked around the music world for the past few decades, but it's amazing that after all this time no one seems to come clean on what the name actually defines. Most agree that the term “industrial music” itself was coined by UK band Throbbing Gristle as an ironic counter-statement against the “manufactured” nature of modern rock. But from that point forward, the term never really took hold among wider audiences until bands like Ministry, Skinny Puppy and KMFDM broke out from their largely underground followings – helped in part by the crossover appeal of peers like Nine Inch Nails – to become the aggressive music of choice for kids like myself, who'd grown annoyed with mopey grunge and radio-friendly puke lumped under the generic catch-all of “alternative rock” in the early '90s.
It was during this golden era of this loosely-labeled genre that Ministry drummers Martin Atkins and Bill Rieflin formed what would become the genre's biggest, most respected and longest-running “supergroup,” known as Pigface – a band whose constantly revolving lineup has boasted past, present and future stars of experimental music from a full spectrum of styles, nations and cultures – including Skinny Puppy's Ogre, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers… plus members of Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubaten, KMFDM, Killing Joke, Pixies, Nitzer Ebb, Faster Pussycat, Dope, Static-X, Chemlab, and on and on and on... none of their albums sound like any of the others, and each of their notorious live performances is unique and chaotically brilliant. The only consistent factors have been Atkins' guiding hand and a love of provocative sonic experimentation that continues even today, with the release of the band's first album of all-new material since 2003's Easy Listening. Does the new release – simply titled 6 – carry on the grand Pigface tradition of free-for-all creative insanity? Read on and learn...
To begin with, those who have followed Pigface for nearly 20 years will take some comfort in knowing that among the 30-plus artists contributing to 6, some of the early “usual suspects” – the ones who came as close as anyone might get to the band's original core lineup – have joined up with Atkins again for this outing. Among those alumni are Chris Connelly (from the early ‘90s crews of Ministry and Revolting Cocks), En Esch (formerly of KMFDM), Thrill Kill Kult's Charles Levi, and the unforgettable Mary Byker, formerly of Gaye Bykers on Acid and more recently Apollo 440 (check out footage of Byker and En Esch throwing down on an obnoxious audience member in the documentary Glitch). Joining the old guard for this round are some new contributors, including members of Zeromancer, Die Warzau, and The Countdown, as well as one of my personal faves: Attrition's Martin Bowes, an icon of dark experimental music.
This is also the first Pigface full-length to be distributed by a label outside of Atkins' own outfit Invisible Records; recently, Atkins has signed on with Anthony Srock's label Full Effect, whose roster includes Faster Pussycat, Crud and Fashion Bomb. According to Atkins, the move hasn’t compromised his artistic freedom, but has shifted the non-creative burden off his shoulders for a change.
“Looking at the prospect of releasing the album through my own channels I realized that I just didn't feel like it,” Atkins states in the album’s press release. “I thought that maybe it was time for someone who would be enthusiastic about the finished album to sink their teeth into it.”
Atkins has his hands full enough with his own Chicago-based music school and a new publishing company, so he’s glad to hand it off to a label whose time he believes has come. “I'm excited to see what they can do with their machinery and interested in how NOT being responsible for all of this will free me up… I'm actually looking forwards to the prospect of a tour where EVERYTHING isn’t at my feet.” So, liberated from the bureaucratic crap, 6 should presumably represent Atkins and company at their most pure.
The result? Not bad, for the most part. Sure, there’s little to compare it with, since as I said earlier there’s almost no consistency between the band’s many albums, but the chaotic energy remains – if maybe running in a slightly lower gear. The production is low-tech and sleazy sounding as always, maintaining the DIY dynamic that Pigface contributors almost always bring to the table. This comes across reasonably well as Chris Connelly’s smoky vocals lead the charge amid slicing analog electronics in the mid-tempo grind “Electric Knives Club,” which has a delightfully dirty garage feel, but sounds vaguely phoned-in, lacking the manic energy that Connelly once brought to Ministry and Revco.
“188.8.131.52” is a wild, weird mishmash of growling layered vocals and greasy guitar riffs that sounds a bit like a Raymond Watts-era KMFDM demo, but doesn’t really go in any noticeable direction… on the other hand, it’s easy to identify “KMFPF” as a spot-on parody of KMFDM’s familiar “manifesto” song style, right down to copying the his & hers intertwining of that band’s main vocalists Sascha Konietzko and Lucia Cifarelli (even the chorus “Kill Motherfucking Pigface” is a wink to the popular myth that KMFDM stood for “Kill Motherfucking Depeche Mode”). Whether that cut is meant as a parody or a loving tribute to Sascha and company, it’s apparent that many of the tracks on 6 have elements of his band’s “call-to-arms” rebel nature: “Fight the Power” (not to be confused with Public Enemy’s late-‘80s hit) is another example, as is Byker’s “Sanctify,” which has a certain old-school British heavy metal shape, but crudely bolted onto a fuck-the-man punk philosophy. The industrial-metal grinder of “I Hate You in Real Life Too” sounds like a diatribe against media-saturating celebrities, but might also be a lyrical punch in the head to narcissistic attention-seekers in general.
Strangely enough it’s some of the newer contributors that shine brightest on this outing; fast-rising Norwegian industrial band Zeromancer performs wicked sonic surgery in “Mercenary,” making it the most aggressive (and catchy) track of the bunch, and Martin Bowes impresses at the helm with “Dulcimer” – which is essentially an Attrition track in coarser, simpler clothing, by turns frightening and beautiful, like a lurching beast of many exotic colors that could swallow you whole if you’re not careful. Fortunately Atkins does return to classic form to close the album, teaming up with performance artist Enigma on “Up and Down” – a sample-heavy explosion of blistering organic percussion beneath an intense freestyle poetry recitation about rising up against corporate enslavement. It’s a cool summation of the rebellious Pigface attitude, and holds closest to the band’s onstage vibe.
Nothing like its predecessors – and that’s no accident – 6 may lack some of the muscle and provocative punch from a band who famously produced an album titled Eat Shit You Fucking Redneck, but it still seems to genuinely embrace the dangerous and sometimes uncontrollable force that results when so many unique and eccentric performers get in the same room and hammer out whatever ideas spring to mind. The result is, as in great Pigface moments past, alternately frightening and hilarious. If this is the group’s last hurrah (as some internet mumblings have suggested), then they’re at least going out like they came in, with middle finger raised defiantly against “safe” music, and I salute them for it.