Pigmartyr (Grand Recordings)
~reviewed by Uncle Nemesis
What’s Watts when it’s at home? The new band formed by ex-KMFDM man Raymond Watts, that’s what. Or perhaps you know him as the frontman of Pig, his previous band-incarnation, of which Watts seems to be a continuation. At any rate, the new band logo - the word WATTS in distressed white capitals out of a red diamond - is in a very similar style as the old PIG logo, possibly a visual clue that what’s going on here isn’t so much a new project as a rebranded version of the old project.
The biography which accompanied this promo CD makes much of Raymond Watts’ dubious status as a heroin addict. Not something that would normally be bigged-up as a selling point, you might think, but it seems that being a junkie is very much part of Raymond Watts’ persona these days. Reading his lyrics in the CD inlay, it almost appears as if he’s relying on his drugs to give him his identity. If you took away his Class As he’d be just another hopeful rocker trying for a comeback in a crowded market, but his addiction gives him an ideal opportunity to play the part of the hopelessly doomed poet of the apocalypse. Bit by bit, hit by hit, he’s slowly, knowingly, almost gleefully, destroying himself - and documenting his own dysfunctionality in the name of rock ‘n’ roll. If there’s a theme to this album, that’s it.
Some lyrical examples? Try this, from ‘Here To Stay’: ‘Just like the bullet to the tomb/From the needle to the spoon/I’m longing for the hit/I’m the fly drawn to the shit’. Or this, from ‘Reject’: ‘And every day it all comes down/To one sweet hit’. Or even this, from ‘Vitriol, Vice, And Virtue’: ‘I am the scratch you could never itch/Keep it dumb, just one hitch/My god is begging me for one more fix’. How about this, from ‘Take’, which seems to be a valedictory revel in the highs and lows of rock stardom: ‘We got hits and writs and lines of shit’. Or even this, from ‘Arbor Vitate’: ‘My god is good, my god is right/He’ll give me what I need tonight/This finger itches for the spike and spoon/In this city where you weep into the womb’. Oh, and the very last song on the album is entitled ‘Junky’. Just in case we haven’t quite figured it out yet, I suppose.
Frankly, if you took out all the drug references from Raymond Watts’ lyrics, you’d hardly have any lyrics left. Curiously, he also makes frequent references to his ‘god’, usually in close connection with those ubiquitous drug references. It’s as if Raymond Watts regards his own addiction as a deity which just has to be obeyed, an all-powerful force which he simply can’t resist. His god is killing him, but he just has to go along with it - he is, after all, the Pigmartyr. All this amounts to an intriguing angle, and it makes me wonder just what might be going on in that dope-pickled mind of his...while at the same time not wanting to get too close.
So, what’s the music itself like, then? In a nutshell, punchy, contemporary metal, in which programming and samples fight it out with aggressive, crunchy guitars. The sound is sometimes fleshed out by soul-diva backing vocals - notably, by Haloblack’s Arianne Schreiber, who is easily good enough to warrant an album of her own. Raymond Watts’ own vocal style is a guttural chant, loaded with effects; he’s clearly one of those singers who can’t quite sing, and he relies heavily on the technology (and his backing vocalists) to make up for the shortfall in his own ability. He rasps his way through song after song, hoping we don’t notice that the distortion effect is doing most of the work. But then, I imagine the target market for this album is the teenage nu-metal hordes, with their hoodies and I-hate-everything attitudes: to that audience, a distorted rasp of a vocal is pretty much de rigeur. In fact, to the average Slipknot fan, this stuff probably counts as dangerously melodic. Raymond Watts probably sounds like Perry Como to that lot.
But here’s the element that gives the album a lift for me, and, ultimately, makes it work. Occasional touches of humour come through here and there, with knowing little musical and lyrical references to what I suspect are Raymond Watts’ own favourite moments from his record collection. On ‘Kundalini’, an incongruous interlude of 80s-influenced (and sampled?) beats ‘n’ grooves among the full-on rock songs, there’s an entire musical sequence which sounds like it’s been lifted wholesale from New Order’s back catalogue. This is followed by a wonderful moment where Raymond Watts assumes an uncannily accurate pastiche of David Bowie’s south London croon, and purloins a snippet of melody from Bowie’s ‘Secret Life Of Arabia’ for his own line “The secret life of your labia’ - and at that point I fall about with delighted laughter. It’s a gloriously cheeky steal, especially as Bowie gets no writer credit (he’ll getcha for that one, Raymond!). Although I find Raymond Watts’ junkie posturing rather tiresome, and his metal noise isn’t really my thing, at that moment I could forgive the audacious old bugger anything.
On ‘Take’ he’s paraphrasing Emerson, Lake, And Palmer: ‘Welcome back my friends/To the shit that never ends’, along with a flurry of sampled orchestral squalls and stabs - very Foetus, that. Of course, Raymond Watts was once a Foetus collaborator, so perhaps this is a trick he learned from Grand Master Thirlwell. Then again, maybe he’s nodding in the direction of Zodiac Mindwarp here, because there’s more than a touch of ‘Prime Mover’ in the rhythm and the cartoonish lasciviousness on this one.
By far the majority of tracks on this album keep pretty firmly to the path of modern metal, and that’s just not my musical area. But it’s these little deviant interludes, these nod-and-a-wink moments, that grab me and pull me in - and make me think that behind his ‘Look at me kids, I’m a druggie, ain’t that jes’ the kewlest thing!’ schtick, Raymond Watts might just be a wittier and more interesting artist than he first appears. An album to be approached with a certain amount of caution, then, and certainly I would advise anyone to take all the druggie-schmuggie stuff with a degree of scepticism. But there’s rewarding stuff here if you care to dive in.
The website: http://www.raymondwatts.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to