Ministry is an interesting group, and also one of my all-time favorites. I could write page after page of my interpretations, associations and theories regarding the group’s catalogue and various personal, many of whom have come and gone over the course of the band’s lifetime* like blips on a radar screen, others having devoted decades of their life to the Chicago/Texas connection. Members aside (at least for now) For the purposes of this post the Ministry catalogue can be divided into a rough time line that looks a little something like this:
MID-80’S: Arista records dance party that yielded iconic 80’s dance floor single “Everyday is Halloween” and subsequent release 12″ Singles and With Sympathy.
Late 80’s/Early 90’s Proto-Industrial juggernaut with albums Twitch, The Land of Rape and Honey, In Case You Felt Like Showing Up (Live) and of course, for my money the band’s masterpiece, 1989‘s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste. These albums pioneered a sound somewhere between a primal, almost tribal dance floor in hell and the blood-rending debauchery of cannibals and martyrs with guitars. The songs groove, but they don’t so much as come across heavy as they do violent and kinda primordial in their evil.
Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed and The Way To Suck Eggs – Industrial Thrash Mega-stars who brought the idea that idea of ‘Industrial Music’ under the spotlight and scrutiny of the Empy-V mainstream. The album still kicks some serious ass, the title track being one of the heaviest things I’ve still to this day ever heard.
From here my opinion tends to deviate from many others. The Follow-up to Psalm 69 is the much-maligned Filth Pig, which I’ve often heard critiqued as the band’s answer to the sudden stardom of grunge music.
Filth Pig was never a let down to me because traveling with the band to that point (not from the beginning, but since the first time Mr. Brown played me The Mind… somewhere in the murky depths of 1992) as much as I LOVED Psalm, to repeat it would have been anticlimactic. Ministry was an always evolving band, as a technology-based project should be, and as stripped down as Filth Pig might have felt it also felt new. Years later I would fall in love with the post-punk bands of the late 70’s/ early 80’s and rediscover Filth Pig as well as 2003’s Animositisomina as a direct descendant of that jagged, apocalyptically obtuse sub genre. Today most specifically I’d like to talk a bit about that aforementioned album, Animositsomina and its links to the past, and I’ll interrupt my time line for now because there’s another piece I’m writing which will pick up where this one leaves off.
Industrial is, in many ways, a sibling to the post-punk groups like Killing Joke and Magazine through its re-integration of musicality and planning back into the context of nihilism and frustration mined by punk in the wake of Stadium rock’s eclipse of the 70’s. You don’t get Wire’s Pink Flag without musical chops and you don’t get an album like The Mind is a Terrible Thing To Taste without planning, because of course someone kept an ear out for all those great samples and later sat in front of a sampler/sequencer in order to weave them into rhythms and cues. But post punk is a sub-genre and as such more of a scene that happened in the now (then) and hard to take seriously when someone over thirty years later is talking about it on the internet. So let’s try to distill it down so it’s a concept here that we can draw from instead of just a buzz word – what all genre and category titles have become in post-internet culture.
Look at it this way – the 60’s and its music often brought people together in huge outdoor events for purposes greater than simple entertainment. Sure, entertainment was part of it – the part promoters and record labels watched and learned how to use as part of their marketing into the next decade, where music went from niche to mainstream, everyday household culture. But there was something else. Because of this concerts, especially outdoor events went from the (possibly mostly-pretense-ridden) idealism of gathering around a cause and using music as a voice to big, simple and extravagant consumerist extravaganzas** and in the wake of the escalating jacket-fringe and cocaine of course the Pistols and their brethren exploded in a hail of DIY, it-doesn’t-fucking-matter-if-you’ve-no-technical-abilities-with-instrument-or-studio-we’re-doing-this-anyway, an explosion that burned quickly and bright but eventually led to even more interesting things like Wire, Killing Joke, Magazine and – in the waaaay outskirts of what your average joe might access – Throbbing Gristle, Can and The Birthday Party. A few years later this in turn eventually began to leak into the airwaves and counter that stadium rock dinosaur still shambling along with the likes of lynard skynard and every derivation of the eagles’ and their solo careers with groups like The Fixx, Red Rider, Flock of Seagulls and a couple dozen other, ahem, New Wave groups as the more extreme influences listed above became a little soluble and record companies struggled to wrap their minds around what this new not-quite-rock and not-quite-punk sound was. As this happened we had the rise of The Police, arguably a post-punk band in their own rights (don’t hate me for that – I can play devil’s advocate on either side of the fence on that one until I wake up and remember just how much I detest Stingy), XTC, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, etc, until the original stuff – again I defer to Wire, Gang of Four, et all – became a thin kind of cream that floated just between where the Rock ale and the Punk Foam separated in a perfect, creamy, frothy head. And as is the case of my analogy, when you drink a black and tan you don’t taste the parts separately. So too Wire and their peers remained visible only to the truly discerning few.
One of those few was clearly Mr. Alain Jourgensen, as well as Paul Barker, Chris Connelly, Bill Rieflin, Mike Scaccia and a whole host of others who would later take up residence at Chicago (Wax) Trax. Looking back at the earlier parts of the Ministry’s career you don’t see the influence of post punk as much as you see its evolution. But Filth Pig and even moreso Animositisomina are where the influence, especially Killing Joke, shines.
Animositisomina begins a little thrashy with “Animosity“, but suddenly where the vocals used to come off with the almost death metal of Psalm 69 for this type of thing they’ve now become… if not anthemic then perhaps better said ethereal. That’s not exactly right either, but somewhere in the middle of the connotations of those two terms you get the choruses below:
After “Animosity” though, Animositisomina veers into some uncharted territory.
Obviously the inclusion of the cover of Magazine’s “The Light Pours Out of Me” may appear as an easy bullet point in my argument, but moving past that tracks like “Broken“, “Shove” “Impossible” and yeah, pretty much the remainder of the album have early period Killing Joke just dripping off of them. Not in an imitating way, but in a ‘yeah, that’s definitely an influence here’ way.
(and interestingly enough Animositisomina is long-time bass player Paul Barker’s last album with the band and it’s follow-up, Houses of the Mole (a little more metal but still showing those post punk influences) sees Killing Joke bass player Paul Raven (RIP) take over his instrument on some of the touring). This made Ministry something of a throwback even while they were indeed breaking new ground, picking up that obtuse, hard-to-summate sound their late 70’s/early 80’s peers road through the better part of a decade before the ‘alternative nation’ co-opted and eclipsed them. But of course post punk had its influence on Nirvana and the 90’s too, and without the proper context its no wonder so many people started to accuse Al and the boys of re-treading the style of the time, when really they were simply still following their own natural evolution.
I had not expected, while researching this piece, to find news that Ministry was indeed ‘reuniting’ in 2012, only about four years after Mr. Al put them to bed. As a long-time fan, and one who feels the band made good and, what’s more, really relevant music all the way through to their end I’m not worried – if Al does in fact slap the defibrillators on for more than just the Wacken Fest I’ve no doubt we’ll get another great album. However, I’ve really been waiting for his Looooooooonnnnngggggggg awaited Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters to put something out and tour, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
* Which ‘officially’ ended after 2007’s The Last Sucker, but has been at least momentarily repealed with the announcement – a mere three days ago from the time I am writing this – for a live performance at the 2012 Wacken Open Air Fest in Germany.
** To later be perfected by Perry Ferrel’s Lollapalooza festival in the early 90’s.