Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen has always been a bit of a character. This is the man who, when doctors insisted his arm be amputated, simply said: “Uh, I don’t play drums for Def Leppard, motherfucker. I need this arm – I play guitar.” This man carved industrial metal into radios worldwide with Ministry’s 1992 album Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs. He paved the way for Nine Inch Nails, Fear Factory, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Linkin Park and countless others.
The ensuing years proved to be something of a shambles. A sordid cocktail of drugs got in the way and despite selling millions of records and rocking the face clean off the Lollapalooza festival, Jourgensen decided he’d had enough. Three albums followed; they were generally dismissed by the media and saw the demise of Ministry.
Since then, a lot’s changed. Uncle Al is clean. Ministry released a further few albums, broke up, reformed and, following the untimely death of axeman Mike Scaccia in 2012, toured one last time in his honour. Here, we examine the tunes from Ministry’s so-so period that you may have overlooked…
10. TV III (The Fall single, 1996)
Yeah, we know he’s not Trent Reznor and doesn’t play B-sides just to annoy people, but this one’s a diamond. Psalm 69 included the adequately thrashy TV II but TV III is a completely different demon. Unnerving time signatures and tight-knit blasts slip through the speakers in a way Dillinger Escape Plan would later pick up on and perfect; samples are here in abundance, with the Apocalypse Now line, “I ain’t afraid of all those fuckin’ skulls and altars and shit” being one of many haunting highlights.
9. DEAD GUY (Filth Pig, 1996)
To summarise Filth Pig in Jourgensen’s words: “It was music to kill yourself to because that’s what I was trying to do. Was it any good? I don’t know. Hell, I don’t even remember making it.” Dead Guy is one of that album’s magical moments, with both Jourgensen and Scaccia weaving blocky riffs betwixt a flurry of discordant leads and one of Paul Barker’s more memorable basslines.
8. SUPERMANIC SOUL (Dark Side Of The Spoon, 1999)
A spark of hope following the melancholic gestation of hatred that was Filth Pig, Dark Side Of The Spoon sets off with Supermanic Soul. A gurgled, underwater effect coats Jourgensen’s roars and the track threatens to explode but never does until the end. The minimalist approach from Filth Pig remains, culminating in a climactic ten seconds of full-blast chugging that’s so tight it’d make Fear Factory drop a solid in their knickers. No, this is not an easy album to listen to. They almost fooled us, though.
7. WHAT ABOUT US? (Greatest Fits, 2001)
Al Jourgensen had a phone call with Stanley Kubrick. Imagine that. Kubrick passed away weeks later and the film he wanted Ministry to feature in, A.I. Artificial Intelligence – not ‘Anal Intruder’, as Jourgensen would have you believe – was taken over by Steven Spielberg, who was initially terrified of the song which the band played, What About Us? You can hear why – the film’s grotesque vision of the future sits perfectly with the jagged Dark Side Of The Spoon-esque tune that slowly descends into a thrashier, almost The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste finale. Sprinkled with verses that could be Jourgensen’s attempt at rewriting Faith No More’s Epic, What About Us? remains a curious and essential portion of the Ministry back catalogue.
6. HAPPY DUST (Bad Blood single, 1999)
It’s been 16 years and we’re still not really sure what this is. Ministry’s take on a James Bond theme tune? A rejected Timesplitters soundtrack? Al Jourgensen single-handedly rebooting The A-Team? The rustling, militaristic drums and sleazy guitar tone drive this unstoppable number and the accompanying chimes, rising gang chants and a left-field brass arrangement all lead into a piece that is trumped in oddity only by 10⁄10, which includes a saxophone.
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5. ANIMOSITY (Animositisomina, 2003)
Probably the saggiest collection from the mid-period, Animositisomina came after the break-up and before Ministry started going all-out thrash with the George Bush triptych. The paper-thin, anaemic production values of yore kick off this rousing number and don’t let up, ensuring listeners that the band were back in business; this track in particular was a scatter-shot, less beefy embryo of what Al and the gang would give birth to on 2004’s Houses of the Molé.
4. PAISLEY (Lay Lady Lay single, 1996)
Released as a B-side to Ministry’s so-so Bob Dylan cover, Paisley was being aired live as early as 1994, before the band even hit the studio for Filth Pig. Pre-dating that album, Paisley was a warning sign; droning riffs replaced the caustic catchiness of Psalm 69 and the blueprint for Filth Pig was there for all to see. The song also featured on the Escape From L.A. soundtrack, but the less we say about that film the better.
3. STEP (Dark Side Of The Spoon, 1999)
Rey Washam – for the millionth time – affirmed his status as Ministry’s best drummer, switching from the verse’s swinging tap-dance tinkles to bestial tub-thumping through the chorus with ease. Jourgensen’s got a weird little croon going on here, praising his fans, crying for help and spouting gibberish atop one of his band’s greatest and most disturbing recordings to date.
2. IMPOSSIBLE (Animositisomina, 2003)
While Animositisomina was indeed peppered with light Slayer-isms, a few tracks retained the foreboding, downright miserable tone of the previous two albums. Impossible fell into neither of these categories; rare clean vocals from Jourgensen and Washam’s expertly-placed drum fills battle against Barker’s rumbling bass to create a racket that is, in a creepy way, kind of uplifting.
1. RELOAD (Filth Pig, 1996)
Keeping with the tradition of saving the best ‘til last, Reload’s video has a man smashing the crap out of a watermelon and there’s also some rather charming segments featuring Jourgensen dressed as Jackie Onassis. Reload’s barked refrain, glass-shattering mid-section and general air of contempt for anything that came before it was Filth Pig’s opening salvo and the antithesis of Psalm 69. This wasn’t a unit-shifter. This was banned on MTV. This was jaw-droppingly horrible and, looking back, that’s all we’ve ever wanted Ministry to be.