By 1999, Ministry were considered old hat.
With nu-metal and plastic pop ruling the airwaves, the duo of Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker were left high and dry.
They were too big to be underground, nor were they successful enough to be playing arenas every night.
This album represents the ultimate “fuck you” to the prevailing trends of the time.
Turmoil And Change
Ministry’s history is one of turmoil and change.
From Al’s early days in Special Affect (a cross between Van Halen and Magazine), through to Ministry’s output of darkwave, synth pop, EBM, industrial, thrash and doom as well as an ever changing line up of collaborators, this was a band that thrived on chaos.
While every album built more and more momentum, 1996’s vastly underrated ‘Filth Pig’ put a stop to that.
A few reasons can be used to explain this (a four year gap between it and ‘Psalm 69’, ‘alternative’ not being the force it once was). Whatever the reasons, the band looked out of sync with what was going on.
Of course, for fans, that’s no big deal. But when you’re on Warner Bros, that would be a cause for concern.
Especially if it’s a band who, in the words of former manager Patty Jourgensen “…continually made them money without them having to lift a finger because we did everything on our own in-house.”
As well as that, it was no secret that Al enjoyed drugs.
Probably more so than Lemmy or Iggy Pop. There are legions of stories involving Al (most not suitable for print), but one stands out: while being interviewed by Melody Maker, he asked the journalists (the Stud Brothers) did they want any beer. They jokingly asked for heroin, and Al thoughtfully produced two needles for them.
So, a combination of declining sales and a spiralling drug habit. Not a good sign.
But, against the odds, Al and Paul made a brilliant album.
‘Supermanic Soul’ is the most “traditional” sounding song on here. A number held together by Rey Washam’s (Rapeman, Scratch Acid) hammering drums and one chord, it would sound great on the radio were it not for Al’s William Burroughs inspired lyrics about how he’s “…just shot a man to death/I’ve gone and blown him out of my head.”
The song revolves around the notion of power a junkie feels whenever they’ve got their hit of heroin, and it’s appropriate that the guitar is chunky and forceful.
A solo that’s been rewound adds to the hazy, yet vigorous atmosphere.
‘Whip and Chain’ revisits the doomy, drug laden sound of ‘Filth Pig,’ and Al’s vocals compliment the sound perfectly.
At first, his tone suggests that he’s nodding off but, when the roar of the line “You’re choking on regret” kicks in, it feels like the listener is descending into hell, such is the vastness of the chords.
Halfway through it, there’s some lovely sounding sequencers fighting it out with a contribution from Al’s girlfriend of the time, Ty Coon.
Her lines about how “in a concrete cell/No soul would dare to tell… When their eyes are covered/Like vultures she hovers” more than likely don’t mean anything, but works in the context of the song.
‘Bad Blood’ was the single, and wound up in the soundtrack for the (vaguely impressive for the time but a bit dated) hit film, ‘The Matrix.’ How this ended up being the single is a bit of a head scratcher.
It works brilliantly as an album track, due to it’s sinister and yet headbanging groove as well as a killer solo. However, it doesn’t have any forward momentum the way other singles like ‘N.W.O’ or ‘Burning Inside’ did. Those songs leapt out and attacked you straight away.
Maybe it was the opinion of Warners that it was the most suitable song on the album for radio. ‘Supermanic Soul’ would, in spite of it’s lyrical content, have been a better single.
Beginning with Sabbath sounding doom, ‘Eureka Pile’ contains a three note bassline that holds the song together. For some reason, it reminds me of the Butthole Surfers (it certainly sounds like Al’s doing an impression of Gibby Hayes). It’s a real moody number, a nice contrast to ‘Bad Blood.’
Washam gets to show off his jazz chops with ‘Step’. A stop start riff in the mould of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, it has a humorous vocal from Al who plays the role of a burnt out rock star announcing “I like to apologize to all my wonderful fans/For sticking by me through such troubled times/I love all of you so much/I wish I could take you all to the Betty Ford Clinic.”
Barker’s loping bassline ‘Nursing Home’ is the only normal element on show here.
Banjo, saxophone and a redneck style vocal informing us that Al’s ‘tired of living/Too tired to die.’ The chorus of “Not dead yet in the nursing home/I said I’m not dead yet in the nursing home” is quite funny. It’s the best song Revolting Cocks never recorded.
The gothy ‘Kaif’ and the stodgy ‘Vex and Siolence’ strongly hint at Al’s frame of mind, alternately asking “where did the time go” and “If the child slaughtered/Then found later…Crawled out to take a shallow breath and listen/What would it hear?” No wonder a rumour started that he had died.
Closer ’10/10′ has a ZZ Top style groove and some saxophone in the vein of Charles Mingus. As a fuck you to the times, it couldn’t be more blatant about it’s influences.
By all accounts, it was a difficult album to make: Barker claimed that a first attempt was scrapped for not being up to standards. Former guitarist William Tucker committed suicide during the mixing, casting an even darker mood over proceedings.
Finally, when it came to promoting the record, Al left that in Barker’s hands.
Reviews were mainly negative, the general feeling was that, while it was interesting to hear Ministry branch their sound out, the album was an exercise in self indulgence and irrelevant to modern metal fans bouncing around to Limp Bizkit and Korn, while Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie was perceived as having superseded Ministry in the minds of industrial metal fans.
The tour for the album was much shorter than previous tours (the UK got two dates, one in London at the Astoria and a third from bottom slot at the Big Day Out in Milton Keynes) and a 28 day slot at Ozzfest was cancelled the next year.
All of this contributed to a feeling of a band being on it’s last legs, and Al later admitted that if it hadn’t have been for an appearance in the film ‘A.I’, Ministry would have been finished in 2001.
Arguably, it’s the last great album that Ministry put out.
With the backing of a major label, they were free to be as indulgent and as experimental as they wanted. Subsequent albums would see them on smaller labels, and a return to thrash (but without the experimental edges).
Some were great (‘Animositisomina’, ‘Rio Grande Blood’), some not so much.
But when you consider that Al once stated that the band could do a thrash album with their eyes closed, they’re disappointing comedowns from their heydays.
Remember them this way.
– Christopher Owens ::: 11/10/15