We all knew it was coming, but it still makes me a little misty-eyed to face the end of the Ministry era… but as you might expect, the rabid creation of Al Jourgensen is not one to go out with a whimper. So his own label, 13th Planet, is ready to unleash an amazing DVD-CD set on May 26th, heralding the wildest, weirdest and loudest moments from last year’s celebrated globe-spanning “C-U-La-Tour.” It’s all documented for posterity in the sweetly titled Adios… Puta Madres (yup, naughty to the last breath), and yours truly recently bore witness to the demented contents. Read on!
As a longtime fan who first saw these guys throw down for a chain-link-encircled live act nearly 20 years ago (I have a moshpit scar I can show you to prove this), I’ve already spilled volumes of data on Ministry across these pages, so suffice to say Jourgensen’s influence on extreme music in the early to mid-‘90s is known even to those who tend to avoid anything loosely labeled “industrial” – a term which Jourgensen often ridiculed as too vague (in an MTV interview, he once joked that he was going to invite some band members over to do some “spot-welding”), but which nevertheless was permanently associated with this iconic group – as well as their contemporaries like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy – by usually clueless media types.
Blanket genre names aside, that sound was the engine that drove aspiring musicians like myself, and channeled raw, furious energy for frustrated Gen-X & -Y legions looking for something more aggressive than navel-gazing, radio-friendly alt rock, and we got it by the bucket-load from Uncle Al and his legions of little helpers, whose honorable ranks have included Pigface founder Martin Atkins, Ogre of Skinny Puppy, Prong’s Tommy Victor, Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers, Slipknot's Joey Jordison, Static-X's Tony Campos and the late, great Paul Raven of Killing Joke... and that's just a fraction of their membership rolls over the past quarter-century.
But that’s all the background I think you need at this point. Suffice to say Ministry lays down a massive wall of simple, potent, ground-shakingly LOUD guitar riffs backed by machine-like rhythms (sometimes looped, often overlaid with multiple live drummers), scattered with ambient synth washes, movie samples, and the occasional power tools… all supporting sardonic, nasty and unflinching lyrics that fling sonic Molotov cocktails at the powerful and corrupt. And thanks to this impressive three-disc set, you can see exactly how they did it… and what the process did to them in return.
The first DVD, En Vivo?, represents the performance half of the equation, presenting 15 songs recorded at various European venues on the aforementioned 2008 farewell tour, filmed in the same rapid-fire, “high-tech meets guerrilla lo-fi” technique employed in their first concert film In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up. Although the chosen songs are excellent, it’s a bit of a letdown that so few of the tracks cover the band’s earlier output, namely from the classic triumvirate The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and Psalm 69. I really felt the absence of “Stigmata,” the first Ministry track I ever heard (which instantly seared itself into my brain), and one with which Al and friends have frequently closed their shows.
A few early classics like “Test” and “Just One Fix” do appear on the DVD, and we're treated to a supremely skull-crushing rendition of “Thieves” that will take your breath away. But the included 13-track CD dispenses with the older material altogether, focusing instead on their more recent releases – Houses of the Molé, Rio Grande Blood, and final album The Last Sucker. I’m not knocking those records, because by and large they rock like hell, and collectively shit-hammer the band’s #1 political target – a certain former leader whose name has a large “W” somewhere in it. But, satiric potency aside, I still have a soft spot for the old tunes.
Quality-wise, the audio on the live tracks (DVD and CD) is superb, taken directly from the live soundboard and on-stage monitors and meticulously mastered in all its 56-channel glory by Uncle Al himself at 13th Planet Studios. If anything, they may even be a bit too pristine – most adhere very closely to the mixes of their respective studio versions, particularly on the CD. But coupled with the video, it’s a testament to the band’s technical prowess that there’s not the slightest missed note or slipped beat, and the mix is loud, in-your-face, and massive enough to set your sofa on fire. Just listen to their apocalyptic opener “Let's Go” for an example of how freakin’ ginormous this band sounds in a live situation.
The show closes with a rendition of the classic “What a Wonderful World” (which also appeared on 13th Planet’s first movie soundtrack for horror flick Wicked Lake), which begins quite bittersweet – it’s the last song the band would ever play together, after all – and turns, as you might expect, massively nut-rocking.
DVD 2, dubbed Fuchi Requiem, is a comprehensive tour documentary, clocking in at around 45 minutes (but not feature-length as I’d been led to believe) and loaded with booze-soaked rehearsal footage shot at Al's dusty Texas hideout “The Sonic Ranch,” which looks like something out of The Devil's Rejects; studio interviews with all the band members (the beautiful guitars on display made me weep); and assorted mayhem from the road.
Highlights include anecdotes about the famous chain-link fence (which apparently got torn down by rabid fans on several occasions); the band's tour-bus playlists (Patsy Kline?); a surprise backstage visit by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons... and Al's personal favorite nightly event: the end-of-show balloon drop. “I'd get all happy like a five-year-old at his birthday party,” he declares. It's that new carefree attitude that informs a rare moment of introspection toward the end where Al admits that, now that he's in his 50s, he's finally become easygoing about his approach to making music: “All the shit you used to worry about or freak out about when you were younger, you don't give a shit about it,” he admits. “Growing old is cool.... mostly.”
What else can I say in summary but… well, thanks Uncle Al, for kicking our collective asses for over a quarter-century. I’ll sorely miss this particular incarnation of your diverse talent, but I also know you’re not done with us yet, so keep on bringin’ it. I love you, man.