Four years ago Al Jourgensen’s industrial metal outfit Ministry called it a day for the second time following the death of their lead guitarist Mike Scaccia with the less than stellar album From Beer To Eternity.
Never one to be too predictable, or miss a chance for some belligerent rabble rousing, though, in 2018 they are back with a new concept record, Amerikkkant that feels like a follow-up to their trilogy of records from the early 2000s, Houses of the Mole, Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker.
Where that trio focussed on then president George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the events of September 11th 2001, this one sets its sights on the latest Republican in the White House, Donald J. Trump (along with side swipes at Brexit, the NRA and general trends in political extremism).
It’s fair to say that if your politics aren’t in opposition to the current US administration you might have trouble getting on board with Amerikkkant, but of course Jourgensen is never quite so easy to peg down so what we get is a more anarchic, ‘do what thou wilt’, outlook than the simple binary nature of ‘Republican vs Democrat’.
Conceptually the album seems to trace a vague arc from the election of Trump back in November 2016, through what came soon after to a kind of apocalyptic projection of what might be to come with the fall of the USA (and broader western civilisation) as we know it.
So that’s a lot about concepts and politics, how does the record actually sound?
The answer is simple, heavy, intense and punishing in all the ways of the best of Ministry’s past, with the added focus that the concept gives Jourgensen.
From the opening twisted Trump samples of I Know Words the heaviness kicks in with Twilight Zone that, like the rest of the record, combines samples of Trump and other political figures with Jourgensen’s trademark rasping bark.
Added to this is the sense of otherworldliness implied by the title, borrowed from Rod Serling’s famous alternative reality TV show, which, in the world or ‘alternative facts’, gives a lot to unpack even there.
On this opening salvo they come with the customary blistering guitars (from Jourgensen and long time second guitarist Sin Quirin), powerfully programmed drums (from Michael Rozon) and harmonica, provided by Jourgensen himself, that brings an excellently broken Americana/blues feeling to the track.
As the album goes on Jourgensen marshalls his troops, including long time collaborator Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory, former Soulfly sticksman Ray Mayorga and more, through a record that takes many elements of Ministry’s past and renders them again fresh.
Later track Wargasm acts as a great microcosm of all this as samples descend into chaos underneath Jourgensen and Bell’s vocals and DJ Swamp’s scratching before Antifa brings possibly the record’s only ray of hope.
With a chorus line of ‘We’re not snowflakes, we’re Antifa’, while slightly more positive in a way, even this is a crushingly intense barrage.
Game Over then feels like that projection of what’s to come if the antics of Trump and his ilk are ignored with lyric, ‘This is the end of human wishes, This is the end of what we made’ summing up that dark and foreboding air.
Then the title track closes off the album by pulling this all together with the same sense of deep unease combined with something of a ‘stand up and fight’ ethos and rabble rousing rhetoric.
This weirdly makes Al Jourgensen and Ministry one of the most motivating voices in protest music I’ve heard in some time, but, rather than coming in the more common from of a well-meaning acoustic guitarist, its delivered through the medium of some of the best heavy metal music I’ve heard in some time.
Amerikkkant then presents Ministry as a truly reinvigorated force more than three decades since they first started making their mark – I guess at least we can thank Trump and Brexit for that if nothing else.