25 years ago industrial metal band Ministry unleashed what is arguably their magnum opus launching them into the hard rock mainstream and making them one of the cornerstones of the sounds that were to become a large part of heavy metal in the mid to late 90s.
While still credited as the duo of founder Al Jourgensen and longtime collaborator Paul Barker, Psalm 69 (aka ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ) saw Ministry develop on the sounds of The Land of Rape And Honey and The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste with Mike Scaccia’s electric guitars coming to the fore over their previously established bed of harsh synths and distorted vocals and samples.
This is demonstrated from the off with NWO, an abrasive statement of intent that sets the scene for the first half of the album.
Along with the developed industrial metal sound the song’s subject matter is something that has been a mainstay of Ministry’s music before and since as it openly attacks the American foreign policy (in this case the Gulf War and George H. W. Bush) and hints ideas of conspiracy theories, a formula that saw the band reach their second peak in the early 2000s during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Just One Fix, a partial collaboration with Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs, as the title suggests, deals with another of Ministry’s long-standing preoccupations, extreme drug use.
There are many stories about the band’s drug consumption during the production of this record (with one Jourgensen himself saying they were spending in excess of $1,000 a day of the record companies money on the pass time) and its strongly reflected here.
The combination of militaristic rhythms and distorted, swirling vocals and samples hurls the listens down a dark and twisted rabbit hole like little else, and that if we believe Jourgensen, is a first hand account of what was going on in his and the rest of the band’s heads at the time.
TV II and Hero continue the sociopolitical themes before the album’s highlight arrives in the form of a demented slice of Americana, Jesus Built My Hotrod.
With a near gibberish vocal performance from Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, it has a quality that is oddly revelatory in an entirely inexplicable way with slide guitars added to the mix creating an undisputed heavy metal floor filler that has become something of a deranged classic.
After this Scarecrow slows things down from the manic first half of the record and begins a descent into a kind of apocalyptic reverie that is highlighted by the (sort of) title track that combines the intensity of the first half with the later heaviness in the best of ways.
The record is then rounded off by Corrosion and Grace that pull things into a kind of hellishly enjoyable black hole of noise.
While Psalm 69 is a highly enjoyable album purely on its own merits (especially when played at extreme volume), hence its place in music history as a defiantly underground album that crossed over into mainstream consciousness, its place in the history of heavy music is one that, 25 years on, marks it out as a classic.
In many ways it defines the mainstream industrial metal genre which was developed, in various directions, by contemporaries Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and more with only NIN ever reaching a similar level of intensity and power (the others were unashamedly more pop).
On top of this it sits alongside the work of Rage Against The Machine, System of a Down and their ilk in reintroducing a truly subversive streak into the heavy metal mainstream following the self-absorption of 80s glam and the nihilism or internal depression of grunge.
This all comes together to make Psalm 69 an album that set the scene for a lot of the music that was to follow, even reaching as far as nu-metal (for its sins), and marking Ministry, who have had a patchy career before and since, as one of the most influential metal bands of the past three decades here if nowhere else.