Review Summary: All gristle and no meat, The Gospel is a frustrating disappointment.
I wanted to love this album. I really, really did.
PIG, aka Raymond Watts, aka the Lord of Lard, aka the Mighty Swine, aka a bunch of other self-given titles, is an industrial musician who has brought me much listening pleasure in the past. His stage persona is that of some depraved, id-driven antichrist, taking the sex and drugs and filth that clogs an inner city gutter and channeling it into industrial rock. Think of Trent Reznor at his most odious, and you won't be too far off.
While I've never properly delved into PIG's scattered solo discography, he has had numerous collaborations with German industrial rock outfit KMFDM over the years. As KMFDM are one of my all-time favourite bands, I've listened to Raymond's voice for innumerable hours before. His guttural growls and croons have been the gritty icing on the cake for a number of my favourite KMFDM songs. Listen to the exhilarating 'Ultra', the anthemic 'Juke Joint Jezebel', the sleazy 'Disgust', the soaring 'Disobedience' or the thunderous 'Kickin' Ass' to hear Raymond bring his distinct brand of bilious hedonism to a song, and elevate it to another level. My more pretentious nature has me think of KMFDM songs as being like industrial-strength ships, sturdy leviathans wrought of metal that churn proudly and rhythmically forward. Raymond can play the captain to great effect, draping himself provocatively over every beam and pole, rallying his crew members through lewd and drunken cries. When Raymond's voice is partnered with strong hooks and soulful feminine vocals, you have an irresistible mix of bile and honey, heaven and hell.
Heralded as a triumphant comeback record, I thought new album The Gospel would be as good a means as any to break into Raymond Watts' solo output. Unfortunately, this album serves as overwhelming evidence that PIG's shtick only works in the context of other people's music. Lacking the songwriting polish of Sascha Konietzko or En Esch, Raymond opts instead to throw half-written guitar riffs and other splatters of sound together into a gritty mess. There's claps and choirs and guitars and synthesisers. Few of these sounds stick, and fewer still compliment one another. The results are often intriguing, but rarely much fun.
Church bells usher in opening track 'Diamond Sinners', one of the album's better moments. Over a grinding industrial groove, Raymond growls the fearsome chorus "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, the drunken devil is speaking through ya." The line, both in content and delivery, is quintessential Raymond. Unfortunately, without a KMFDM diva vocalist such as Dorona Alberti to serve as his foil, PIG's lust-filled snarls quickly grow tiresome. KMFDM are a band that take conflicting ingredients - rock riffs and electronic beats, masculine voices and feminine ones, dissonance and melody, the goofy and the sinister - and play them off each other to thrilling effect. With only his own meagre bag of tricks to work with, PIG begins flailing and squealing very early on in this album.
Almost every inch of this record is drenched in Raymond's rasping, masculine voice. If his voice had range, or his porcine persona was enough to carry such an underwritten album, perhaps my feelings towards it would be warmer. Unfortunately, everything is a homogenous smear of sex and pork and sweat and filth, with not nearly enough depth or detail to make it worthwhile. It's all gristle, and no meat.
It seems a little pointless to talk about individual tracks, when they almost all play out the same. However, there are a few moments that stand out from the grime. 'The Fly Upon The Pin' features crumbling acoustic guitar and melancholy vocals, before locking into a pulverising groove of synth bass and mechanical percussion. It is the album's most interesting moment, and the closest it gets to three-dimensionality of mood or structure. Also of note is 'Viva Evil', which appears to be a rework of an earlier PIG song, the cracking Nihil-era KMFDM throwback 'Evil Does.' Unfortunately, the strongest asset of 'Evil Does' was easily its buzzsaw riff that kicked in halfway through the track. Here, the once delectable guitar line has been glitched and disjointed into a third-rate impression of what Trent Reznor was doing on Year Zero. To hear PIG butcher what should have been The Gospel's defining moment is frustrating, to say the very least.
That isn't to say this album is devoid of any redeeming features. It has energy in spades, and as many abrasive industrial textures as one could dream of having, albeit inconsistent and disorganised ones. Raymond also has an ability to pleasantly recall some classic KMFDM moments, such as the "oh whoah whoah" vocals on 'Mercy Murder' that sound so very much like those on 'Revolution'.
As such, I'm awarding this album a generous five out of ten. I would sooner point you in the direction of KMFDM classics like Nihil, Angst and Naive, and leave this album to the diehards.