Tag Archives: Al Jourgensen

Ministry – Psalm 69 (The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs)

Ministry - Psalm 69 album cover25 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.

Ministry - Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker - 1992

Jourgensen and Barker in 1992

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.

Ministry - Jesus Built My Hotrod - Gibby Haynes

Haynes in the video for Jesus Built My Hotrod

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).

Ministry live 1992

Ministry on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour

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.

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Ministry – From Beer To Eternity

Ministry From Beer To Eternity - coverMinistry rounded off their career in September 2013 with the release of From Beer To Eternity following the death of guitarist Mike Scaccia late in 2012. The band had recorded most of the album, with Scaccia, and it was completed by bandleader Al Jourgensen and Sammy D’Ambruoso from these sessions.

Unfortunately, while it is clearly a noble attempt to utilise the band’s final studio sessions, and pay tribute to the guitarist, the result is, at best, a mixed bag of the kind of sounds Ministry have made since their switch from electronica to more industrial material in the late 1980s.

From Beer To Eternity starts out with some more electronic tracks than their recent output before the riffing metallic guitars come back to the fore, all with a good dose of samples and Al’s distinctive vocals laid over the top.

Ministry - Al JourgensenUnfortunately, this all makes for something of a turgid retread of the past and, while the lyrics are still dealing with issues, from war to climate change to Fox News, they lack the frantic precision of everything from NWO to Double Tap and it has the feeling of issues dealt with by rote rather than with real originality.

A hint at Al’s darkly comic side does come through on Fairly Unbalanced, but without the biting urgency of the past.

Then comes Side F/X Including Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV 4). It is here that we get a sense of why this album is, maybe, not as conceptually tight as it might be as it sounds like the sonic evocation of grief, through the Ministry filter, as it seems to deal, in a way at least, with the passing of Mike Scaccia.

Mike Scaccia and Al Jourgensen

Mike Scaccia and Al Jourgensen

Following this we go back into usual Ministry territory with Thanx But No Thanx that is something of a State of the Union address, Jourgensen style, but, like much of the rest of the record, rather than feeling like it wants to make a change it seems more content to tell us the state of things and is too tired to really do anything about it anymore.

With Enjoy The Quiet, a solid wall of industrial noise, Jourgensen leaves us in typically uncompromising style and, while the album as a whole is maybe not a success it is certainly an uncompromising vision and, I was left with the impression, that this is the record Jourgensen wanted to make which leaves Ministry with a real sense of legitimacy and integrity, if not a particularly good record.

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Ministry – Enjoy The Quiet: Live At Wacken 2012

Ministry - Enjoy The Quiet: Live-At-Wacken 2012 coverIn a time where so much of the music world has become comodified and homogenised within and inch of its life, it is always nice to remind oneself that people like Al Jourgensen still exist and play their unique take on rock ‘n’ roll to crowds as large as those at Wacken Open Air, Germany’s, if not Europe’s, premier festival of all things heavy.

This live Blu-ray chronicles Al’s band, Ministry’s, set at the 2012 festival in sparkling high-definition as they were touring their second to last album Relapse, so, understandably, many of the tracks come from that record.

This is no bad thing as it is a great album and, even its less impressive track, 99 Percenters, here is a storming and pounding crowd pleaser.

I had the opportunity to catch Ministry live on their 2007, (supposedly) final, tour and, while that was as loud and intense a gig as I’ve ever witnessed, it seemed to be lacking something in audience connection with a feeling of a band going through the motions – here though, it seems that some time off gave Uncle Al and company a chance to find some new energy as, what is showcased here, maintains the intensity but with an added force of energy and conviction that these songs need.

Al Jourgensen

Al Jourgensen

Sometimes hidden behind his custom-made skeletal mic stand and at other times stalking the stage and commanding his troops, Al Jourgensen is an astounding presence on stage here, even through a camera, and lives up to his reputation as a powerful figure who is the alternative to the ‘alternative scene’.

The show itself matches him for this as it combines both the live footage of the band with elements of their visual show, displayed on the large video screens at the festival, but merged with the live footage here to great effect.

Ministry at Wacken 2012It is never used so much that I felt removed from the live experience but, in fact, is pitched as to perfectly emulate the feeling of seeing it live while using the medium of the concert film to heighten its effect, particularly on Ghouldiggers, No “W” and the aforementioned 99 Percenters.

With material from the 21st century making up the lion’s share of the set, Ministry head back to some classics to round things off in the form of NWO, Just One Fix and Thieves. These three songs sum up the lasting appeal of the band as they mix everything that has made them such a force with politics rubbing shoulders with blistering industrial metal in a way unlike any other band.

Mike Scaccia and Al Jourgensen

Mike Scaccia and Al Jourgensen

While Al is clearly the ring master here the rest of the band are all on astonishing form too, but it is late guitarist Mike Scaccia who is, understandably, particularly highlighted. Across the set Scaccia demonstrates a ferocious style of playing perfectly suited to Ministry and the show acts as an astonishing and certainly fitting tribute to the guitarist who Jourgensen so vauled as part of the band that, following Scaccia’s death in December 2012, he called a day on more than 30 years of Ministry.

So not only is this a fitting send off for Scaccia, but also it seems, a fitting live send off for Ministry themselves and, if you had to choose a final live document to leave the world, I can think of little better as it captures everything that made the band great from their late-80s electronic metal explosion to their powerful 2012 industrial-politico ‘Relapse’.

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Ministry – Relapse

The Texan industrial metallers return with a storming album taking on both society and more personal issues.

I will admit to being slightly concerned when I heard the news that Ministry were to be releasing a new album as their most recent efforts (a pair of covers albums) had been at best mixed and at worst painfully dull and their 2008 farewell tour had been an intense and impressive, seemingly, final outing which I didn’t want to be tarnished any further.

So it took me a while to pluck up the courage to give Relapse a listen, but it turns out I needn’t have worried.

In fact on this collection of 10 new songs (and one remix) Al Jourgensen and friends demonstrate a truly renewed vigour matched with all the intensity of old and, possibly, a refocused sense of purpose.

Starting off with a spoken section decrying the commodification of dead rock stars its clear that this album will be more than just the anti-George W rants of Ministry’s final trilogy and that affairs closer to home are also on the agenda for Uncle Al.

As Ghouldiggers continues musically its clear we remain on familiar ground with the heavily processed but precise guitar sound and vicious drums (never sure if they are sequenced or not they are so precise yet vital) backing up Jourgensen’s ranting and raving (in a very good way) vocal assault.

As the album continues Ministry cover topics from war and politics to drug use and anti-capitalism to create something that at once could soundtrack the apocalypse the album claims is heading our way before the end of the year and try to save us from bringing the end of the world on ourselves.

Never one to shy away from anything Al also addresses the issues of his own health (he was technically dead for a good few minutes a couple of years ago) and battles with addiction in very frank terms that certainly add an extra depth than just political ranting.

Relapse is made up of strong songs from start to finish and, in fact, the only track that even slightly lets the side down for me is 99 Percenters, which was released as a single before the album and, while it sounds like it will be a good shout along track live, lacks some of the depth of the rest of the record.

In the end, though a band doing a comeback record after saying they had called it a day is always a slight disappointment (though also often expected), Ministry have returned in fine form and with a strong purpose, which seems to be what Al Jourgensen needs to create his best work, and if this turns out to be the last we see of Ministry it’s a good way to go out.

But, if Ministry continue to make records, it could be the start of a great new chapter for the band.

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