by Joseph Schafer
How do you solve a problem like Ministry? The Grammy-winning industrial band knows how to survive, but not always thrive. Sole original founding member Al Jourgensen, who dresses like a BDSM Jack Sparrow, hasn’t made an essential album in over a decade. Hell, his soundalike side project, Surgical Meth Machine, is a better addition to the Ministry discog than the band’s critically acclaimed Rio Grande Blood. This fall though, the Chicago mainstay is embarking on—against all odds—what promises to be an absolute rager of a headlining tour.
It wasn’t always like this. At the dawn of the nineties, Ministry tapped into a kind of repressed urban rage that had been magnified by the social aftermath of Reagan’s eight years of administration. Unabashedly political, misanthropic and nihilistic, the band’s run of albums from 1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey through 1992’s Psalm 69 consistently delivered experimental and abrasive heavy guitar music that looked outward while their peers in bands like Metallica and Nirvana grew more mellow and introspective.
The songs were catchy, too. “Thieves” is the anthem the Occupy movement ought to have latched onto. “Stigmata” takes the sound of collapsing buildings and makes a high school marching band standard out of them. The band’s opus, “So What”, stretches one killer bass groove into a ten-minute rant about why everyone ought to just be a domestic terrorist.
The pinnacle of the band’s golden years came on February 22, 1990 in Merrillville, Indiana. Jorgensen toured behind his strongest material with an unstoppable live band including longtime collaborator Paul Barker, a double drum battery including Bill Rieflin now of King Crimson and Martin Atkins, and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy (he has a writing credit on Britney Spears’ “Toxic” FYI). That show from that tour, immortalized on tape as In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up, may be the single most rage-filled suite of songs ever put to tape. Essentially Ministry’s been touring behind it for almost thirty years with no original members.
So why see them now? Well, extreme guitar music may be farther from the mainstream than it’s ever been, but the Chicago industrial sound has gained some valence in pop music’s current lingua franca. Kanye West’s whole career has been, among other things, a love letter to the musical history of Chicago and Yeezus borrows liberally from Ministry’s tropes. That album ignited a small but growing wave of industrial hip hop acts, but Kanye lifted the idea nearly wholecloth from Sacramento’s experimental rap-rock outfit Death Grips. And Death Grips, well, they’re opening for Ministry this fall.
Apparently they’re opening for an invigorated Ministry, too. Stereogum’s Michael Tedder caught Ministry’s set at this year’s Riot Fest and loved it, saying, “Their set proved they are deserving of a critical reappraisal and a long run as a legacy act.” Having their most influential contemporary analogue open for them on a classics-heavy tour may be the snake eating its own tail, but at least it sounds like a sight to behold. We’ll be hosting a ticket giveaway for this show, you know, in case you still don’t feel like paying up.
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