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Ministry


A miasma of ungodly synth-punk and industrial heavy-metal, Al Jourgensen’s MINISTRY seemed always on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough… or indeed a nervous breakdown. Whilst they and others such as BUTTHOLE SURFERS, NINE INCH NAILS et al, laid down the blueprint for the equally-uncompromising MARILYN MANSON and PRONG (to mention only a few), there were only a sprinkling of chart dust for team Al.
Formed in Chicago, Illinois… 1981, by former SPECIAL AFFECT guitarist Alain Jourgensen (a replacement for Tom Hoffman), MINISTRY were a million miles from what they morphed into by end of that decade. The former act included vocalist Frankie Nardiello, bassist Marty Sorenson and drummer Harry Rushakoff; and it was this new wave aggregation that released an original soundtrack album, “Too Much Soft Living”, in 1980.
Continuing in this vein, Alain Jourgensen (born October 9, 1958, Havana, Cuba) co-founded the independent Wax Trax! Label, and with keyboardist John Davis, aforesaid bassist Sorenson, drummer Stephen George, and second keyboard-player Paul Taylor, MINISTRY came flying out of their funky post-punk pulpit, late in ’81 with the 12-inch, `I’m Falling’; a track relegated to the B-side of `Cold Life’ when issued in the UK by Situation Two.
Subsequently trimmed to just two members, Jourgensen and George; with session people that included Davis, Robert Roberts (keyboards), Brad Hallen (bass) and Walter Turbitt (guitar), a further string of limp electro-pop singles and a debut album for Arista Records: WITH SYMPATHY (1983) {*4} – European title: “Work For Love” – was something best forgotten by all and sundry; especially the duo, who, thankfully, would not be the next WHAM!; or indeed, KAJAGOOGOO.
By 1985, Jourgensen himself would take MINISTRY on a second sojourn of sorts; and back to Wax Trax! However, after only a handful of harder-edged, industrial-ized dance 45s; namely `All Day’, `Nature Of Love’ and `Halloween’, the outfit switch to Sire Records. Only the first of these 12-inchers (and the attendant single, `Over The Shoulder’) would feature on TWITCH (1986) {*6}, a much-improved set that went a long way to relinquish the past in order to lay a path down to their future nihilistic noodling.
Around the same time, the MINISTRY main man initiated a number of moonlight projects, the most high-profile being REVOLTING COCKS, a combo who included in their ranks, Richard 23 (from FRONT 242), Luc Van Acker and others to blaze a trail on the likes of `No Devotion’ and its parent set, `Big Sexy Land’. With only Acker in tow; and patented indie industrialists on board (Paul Barker, William Rieflin – both from BLACKOUTS – and FINITRIBE’s Chris Connelly), the ‘Cocks were at their hardest and harshest for the live in ’87 set, “You Goddamned Son Of A Bitch”.
Meanwhile, MINISTRY had recruited said bassist Barker, and drummer Rieflin from Al’s all-too-brief project PAILHEAD; plus guest Connelly again in tow, in order to flesh out the group’s ground-breaking metal/industrial fusion album, THE LAND OF RAPE AND HONEY (1988) {*8}. And very much in the mould of KILLING JOKE, KMFDM and Canadians FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, the visceral Jourgensen had finally turned a corner. Indeed, paranoid ear-benders, such as `Stigmata’, `The Missing’ and `Deity’, sliced and diced any thoughts that the manic MINISTRY would return to their old musical diocese.
As the decade petered out; leaving behind entrails of electro advocates in their wake, MINISTRY thrashed-out yet another uncompromisingly brainwave of industrial grinding a la THE MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO TASTE {*8}. The record was simply a cranium-numbing torture chamber of post-hardcore; as to allow for the confrontational and detached `Thieves’ (penned with SKINNY PUPPY’s Nivek Ogre), `Burning Inside’ and the almost accessible `So What’. And to accompany the band on tour for 1990’s live outing, IN CASE YOU DIDN’T FEEL LIKE SHOWING UP (1990) {*6}, guest artists JELLO BIAFRA and drummer Martin Atkins (of PIGFACE), played their part in adding a coterie of potent paranoia.
With additional guitarist Mike Scaccia on board (though no room for Connelly), and with the unhinged guest improv vocals of Gibby Haynes (of BUTTHOLE SURFERS), MINISTRY recorded, arguably, their finest moment to date in `Jesus Built My Hotrod’ – surely one that got away in terms of chart success. This harrowing single was closely followed by MINISTRY’s breakthrough transatlantic Top 40 album, PSALM 69: THE WAY TO SUCCEED AND THE WAY TO SUCK EGGS (1992) {*8}, a highly regarded work of vitriolic artistry that saw the group veering towards searing sonic metal. A UK Top 50 single, `N.W.O.’ (plus the pumped-up `Just One Fix’ and `Scare Crow’), chased up a successful near-headlining slot on the Lollapalooza tour, whilst Barker also moonlighting in yet another MINISTRY offshoot, LEAD INTO GOLD. The addition of auxiliaries Rey Washam and Bill Rieflin (drums), plus Louis Svitek and Mike Scaccia (guitars), would be introduced/re-introduced at this juncture.
A slight sidestep along the corporate ladder from Sire to Warner Bros., the MINISTRY of sonic sound ventured even further into metal territory via FILTH PIG (1995) {*6}; a muddied Top 50 opus that contained a murderous version of DYLAN’s `Lay Lady Lay’, plus the double-sided minor UK hit: `The Fall’ and `Reload’. To say the album was beset with problems would be an understatement, but Jourgensen had escaped one of many drug busts.
This carried on in to 1999, although Al and Paul had been active again when augmenting JELLO BIAFRA’s Lard for the post-DEAD KENNEDYS assault-and-battery of 1997’s “Pure Chewing Satisfaction”. MINISTRY was re-building their enterprise with an upgrade to full-time membership for both Washam and Svitek. Tragically, just as the group and its affiliate alumni were readying for the aptly-titled forthcoming set, THE DARK SIDE OF THE SPOON {*5}, news filtered through, on May 14, 1999, that touring guitarist William Tucker had committed suicide by slashing his throat; he was only 38. Released the following month, the whole seedy project was thrown to the wolves by critics and fans alike; only the Euro-only “Matrix”-endorsed, Grammy-nominated single, `Bad Blood’, possessed anything worth salivating over.
While it had been all quiet on the studio front, due to several disputes with their label and Ozzfest organisers (among other troubles), fans of industrial rock’s maddest bad-taste merchants were at least partly satiated by the release of the charmingly titled “Sphinctour”, a live document of 2002 culled from the band’s mid-90s heyday and deriving the bulk of its content from `Psalm…’ and `Filth Pig’.
Girding itself against the tide of posturing, sub-standard nu-metal, and back on fresh terrain, MINISTRY swaggered belatedly into the new millennium with the palindromical, tongue-twisting ANIMOSITISOMINA (2003) {*6}. Their nastiest and hardest-hitting slab of lead weight metal in over a decade, the album also took a backwards glance at the band’s post-punk beginnings with a cover of MAGAZINE’s `The Light Pours Out Of Me’.
Also unleashed from the Sanctuary stable (and featuring a Barker-less Jourgensen recruiting bassist John Monte and drummer Mark Baker; plus the returning Scaccia), MINISTRY unveiled HOUSES OF THE MOLÉ (2004) {*7}, in reference to Zeppelin’s hard-rock assault of yesteryear. Easily Jourgensen’s most controversial outing for some time; addressing out-of-touch President George W. Bush as something akin to an Orwellian snake trader by way of `No W’, Al and his sample-tastic tapes of mass distraction, in fact, had all incorporated “W” as prominent feature: from `Waiting’ and `Wrong’, to `Warp City’ and `Worm’, the “killing joke” was in his nihilistic barb.
The George W. Bush hate machine trilogy continued in earnest by way of 2006’s RIO GRANDE BLOOD {*7} – a back-handed swipe spawned from a ZZ TOP album that superimposed “Mud” with “Blood”. The man from the MINISTRY had now roped in PRONG’s Tommy Victor (guitars/bass), KILLING JOKE’s Paul Raven (keyboards/bass/guitars/vocals) and Mark Baker (drums), to help dish the dirt; or suck out the explicit atmosphere, on visceral volleys such as `Ass Clown’ (turning in a role for JELLO BIAFRA), `Gangreen’ (with Sgt. Major in attendance), `Khyber Pass’ (with Liz Constantine), and the Grammy-nominated post-9/11 riposte, `Lies Lies Lies’.
THE LAST SUCKER (2007) {*7} wrapped up the final W. Bush inquisition, and left it with an industrial wasteland of sonic sound that expressed bewilderment on how this Pres was elected twice; as the revealling title track and others, like `No Glory’ and the 10-minute `End Of Days, Pt.2’ (featuring FEAR FACTORY’s Burton C. Bell) suggested. MINISTRY had always flicked the switch for many a cover version, but in their de-construction re-hash of The DOORS’ `Roadhouse Blues’, Al, Paul (plus newbie’s to the cause Sin Quirin and John Bechdel) had opened up a whole new can of worms in their tremulous nightmare of thrash. The subsequent COVER UP (2008) {*6} set would take this step further by revisited other golden nuggets from:- The ROLLING STONES (`Under My Thumb’), T. REX (`Bang A Gong’), GOLDEN EARRING (`Radar Love’), DEEP PURPLE (`Space Truckin’), RAM JAM (`Black Betty’), MOUNTAIN (`Mississippi Queen’), ZZ TOP (`Just Got Paid’), BLACK SABBATH (`Supernaut’), and an overweight schizoid re-take of Nat King Cole’s `What A Wonderful World’.
For 2009’s live part-CD/DVD, ADIOS… PUTA MADRES {*6} – recorded back in ’08 – and post-retirement remix set, THE LAST DUBBER {*5}, the duo added sessioners on tour by way of guitarist Tommy Victor, keyboardist John Bechdel, bassist Tony Campos, and drummer Aaron Rossi. Jourgensen, meanwhile, had excavated old haunts REVOLTING COCKS, and later instigated his cowpunk pastiche/alter-ego, BUCK SATAN & THE 666 SHOOTERS for an album entitled “Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free”.
Fans of Al and his maniacal MINISTRY (Scaccia, Quirin, Victor, Campos and, on bass/keys, Casey Orr), were left to ponder over a plethora of exploitation records that assumed he’d retired; though he was indeed seriously ill. The other fact was that the paranoid preacher was planning another assault on the moral majority. He’d nothing really to shout about since Barack Obama moved into the White House, so keeping stumm was the best option… for now.
Switching from 13th Planet to AFM Records, 2012’s RELAPSE {*5} toned down the rhetoric (by comparison). Instead Al gripped otherworldly subject matter as in `Ghouldiggers’, `99 Percenters’ and `Double Tap’, whilst churning out another cover; this time via S.O.D.’s `United Forces’. Sadly, the tragic death of guitarist Mike Scaccia; of heart failure, on December 22, 2012 while performing with main band, RIGOR MORTIS (on stage in Ft. Worth, Texas), left Al contemplating his own mortality.
Commitments and a sense of emboldened purpose gave Jourgensen a chance to pay tribute to his side-kick buddy; giving the guitarist a full credit on his next German-only release: ENJOY THE QUIET: LIVE AT WACKEN 2012 (2013) {*6}, and in an honorary send-off for heartfelt “farewell” set, FROM BEER TO ETERNITY (2013) {*6}, in which drummer Aaron Rossi had replaced Victor. If there was one or two tracks to stir up the melting pot of frustration surrounding America’s inequitable news channels (in this case, Fox), then a pointer to the future of sorts came through `Fairly Unbalanced’ and the back-to-back metal-crunching of `The Horror’.
Jourgensen’s impetus to get back on track was obviously motivated by America’s most antagonistic figures in history bar none: incumbent President Donald J. Trump. Since the rancor Republican’s election win over Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in November 2016, Al’s pen must’ve worked overtime in order to once again counterbalance the odds; he was joined by Quirin, Bechdel, Campos, turntablist DJ Swamp (in conjunction with ex-N.W.A. member Arabian Price), bassist Jason Christopher, drummer Roy Mayorga, and synths man Cesar Soto.
Nuclear Blast Records subsequently sanctioned MINISTRY’s return to the fold a la AMERIKKKANT (2018) {*6}, a no-holds-barred industrial-metal offensive concerning the Commander-in-Chief. Suffocated by soundbites of the scary Pres himself – `Victims Of A Clown’ went as far as sampling iconic Charlie Chaplin’s 1930’s movie speech from The Great Dictator (you do the maths) – juggernaut Jourgensen railed against the burgeoning alt-right racists and internet trolls of our troubled tsunami times. Somehow, tracks such as `Antifa’, `Wargasm’ (featuring Burton C. Bell again) and `Twilight Zone’, escaped the wrath of America’s powers that be. In conclusion, fighting firearms with fiery rhetoric in this civil war of words was all very well (hats off to Al), but the solution would never be nearer with Walmart and other outlets still encouraged to sell weapons of war to anyone waking in off the street.
© MC Strong/MCS 1997-2003/GRD series // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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