There's very little about Al Jourgensen's legendary band Ministry that hasn't been covered on these pages in some form or another, since I've been a hardcore fan of Uncle Al's output since the late '80s – a period which not only encompasses Ministry's pioneering works of industrial/metal fusion, but side projects like Revolting Cocks and Lard (the latter featuring Dead Kennedys founder and punk icon Jello Biafra), and his collaborations with industrial icons like Skinny Puppy. For those of you still catching up, you can take part in a pretty comprehensive musical journey through the band's catalog via the live album/concert film Adios... Puta Madres (which I covered in depth here), a candid document of the band's "C-U-LaTour." Several factors at the time led Jourgensen to dissolve Ministry after that run – including the departure of co-founder Paul Barker, the death of legendary bassist Paul Raven, and Al's own declining health. But the latter made a remarkable reversal (after nearly dying himself), and the renewed energy that followed motivated him to reform the band, resulting in the fairly solid album Relapse.
Sadly, those devastating events wouldn't be the last for the band and their fans: last December, we lost Mike Scaccia (shown above), a talented guitarist who had become a major creative force in Ministry's last iteration, and who co-wrote many of the songs on Relapse with Jourgensen. Their final teaming, a writing/recording session taking place just weeks before the guitarist's death, would eventually form the basis for Ministry's 13th studio album, From Beer to Eternity – an epic record that contains some of the band's most diverse sounds, spanning a wide spectrum of genres and styles, but stands up well alongside the output of their golden era, back when Psalm 69 first barreled its way onto the charts. Jourgensen sums up the new record as a tribute to Scaccia's creative force, describing its birth in “one of the most creative Ministry tracking sessions ever.” He also declares this record to be the band's last... for real this time.
“It pretty much wraps up my career with a bow and ties up all the loose ends,” Jourgensen explains. “It’s rock solid... the definitive guide to the Ministry cosmos. It's the most emotionally difficult project I've ever done... but the most rewarding.” That summary is on the money, as the focus here is placed on the band's simple but effective foundation of incredibly fat metal riffs, multi-tracked and fused to layers of relentless machine-gun rhythms and bizarre samples and sound effects, with Al's scorched vocals riding the massive beast like a maniacal warrior of the wasteland. That image never felt more fitting than in the opening barrage of "Hail to His Majesty (Peasants)," a profanity-laced, down-tempo death march scattered with synth blurbs and sudden stops and starts, before kicking into high gear for the bombastic electro-metal of "Punch in the Face" and the thrash-tastic riffs and cavernous vocal reverb of "Perfect Storm." Thematically, Jourgensen's favorite political targets take some heavy hits again, with some of his most intense venom directed at FOX News through the raunchy rolling rock of “Fairly Unbalanced,” which incorporates some of the southern-fried cowpunk that Scaccia and Jourgensen brought to their band Buck Satan. Scaccia also launches into crazed fret acrobatics in the amazing "Side FX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger,” forming part of a nightmarish sonic backdrop for Al's scathing lyrical attack on the pharmaceutical industry (complete with samples from TV ads for various prescription drugs, intercut with Al screaming “I feel like shit!”).
Interestingly, instead of the band's typically blistering high-tempo riffage, the smoldering, dirge-like grinder "PermaWar" was chosen for the album's first music video (watch it below), which employs similar cut-up archival imagery to videos like “LiesLiesLies” (from 2006's Rio Grande Blood) to illustrate the song's doomy depiction of the profit-hungry war industry. The track itself draws more from the band's late '90s output like FilthPig and Dark Side of the Spoon, but with some surprising twists, including layered, melodic backing vocals. Ministry's various creative offshoots are well-represented here as well, with sleazy dance-rock a la Revolting Cocks on tracks "Lesson Unlearned" (featuring female guest vocals from Patty Fox), the experimental, sample-heavy electro of “The Horror” and an industrial noise-fest ironically titled “Enjoy the Quiet,” which is Al's twisted version of a wave goodbye to the fans.
The sprawling, eight-minute epic "Thanx But No Thanx" features a gruff and entertaining spoken-word reading of “A Thanksgiving Prayer” by Naked Lunch author and counter-culture icon William S. Burroughs, performed here by a man known as “Sgt. Major” (who had previously contributed spoken passages to Rio Grande Blood). The track also indulges Jourgensen's long fascination with dub (the band has turned out numerous dub-style remixes of their more metalized works) before dropping into some mean mid-tempo chugs. A cool Middle Eastern-style acoustic riff from Scaccia gives a hypnotic overtone to the more melodic closing piece “Change of Luck," which is lyrically transformed by Jourgensen into a direct tribute to the guitarist and a testament to the band's ballsy creative determination in the face of tragedy.
While From Beer to Eternity is a fast and furious time-trip through Ministry history, there's still more to the sordid tale – much of which has been laid down in the new book Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, a biography compiled by music journalist Jon Wiederhorn from thirty hours' worth of interviews with Al and his many friends and collaborators including Scaccia (his final interview), Jello Biafra, KMFDM's Sascha Konietzko, Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes. It's a definite must-own for any true Ministry fan.
I'm not going to linger with any final words on the career of one of my favorite artists of all time... first, because I've expressed those sentiments already in previous features, and second, because I don't want to lapse into melancholy nostalgia. That's definitely not how Al's going out, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Instead, let's dive into the video for “PermaWar”...