It is impossible to know where to begin when talking about Ministry. With origins in the late 1970’s, the band actually began some 40 years ago in 1981 as a synth-pop act before evolving into a pioneering industrial band that has influenced too many to name. With a revolving line up which has featured artists and musicians (to name a few) as diverse as Chris Cornell, former Fear Factory vocalist Burton C Bell, former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, bassist Paul Raven and Prong’s Tommy Victor with mastermind Al Jourgensen being the only sole consistent member since the band’s formation.
Ministry’s career has not been a constant churn of albums and has been something of a stop-start at times. The band was prolific in the late 1980s and early 1990s releasing With Sympathy in 1985; Twitch in 1986 and then a run of commercially successful records The Land of Rape and Honey in 1988, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste in 1989 and the certified Platinum Psalm 69 – The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs in 1992. The mid to late 1990s saw something of a downturn and a lacklustre response to 1995’s Filth Pig and Dark Side of The Spoon in 1999 leading to the band being dropped by their label and Jourgensen entering rehab which lead to a hiatus for the band. Journgensen recovered and returned in the early 2000’s releasing a further four albums over the decade with 2007’s The Last Sucker being touted as Ministry’s “final” album with a tour in 2008 that Jourgensen insisted would also be the last. This hiatus lasted three years with Jourgensen reforming Ministry with Mike Scaccia on guitar and releasing the Relapse album in 2012. On 23rd December 2012, Scaccia died onstage while playing with his other band Rigor Mortis. As Scaccia and Jourgensen had been working on music before the guitarist’s death, Jourgensen wanted to honour his friend in releasing the music but once more insisted that the compositions – which became the album From Beer To Eternity – would be the “last” recorded music from Ministry.
However, in true Ministry style, 2018 saw another return with Amerikkkant and now with their latest release, Moral Hygiene. Jourgensen does stick to his guns and like its predecessor mixes up savagery with danceable beats, the record is loaded with hooks.. This is not Jourgensen losing his edge – far from it, ‘Uncle’ Al’s viewpoint remains bleak, dystopic with a pathological hatred of the state of the USA, political leaders and on a quest for social justice, the last 18 months providing a veritable feast in lyrical fodder. With varying tempos, Moral Hygiene is loaded with texture as well as a bristling energy and while on first listen it is an album that may blur into itself, repeated visitation opens up some terrific sonics.
As with its predecessor, there is a variety of voices and it can be manic with anything from protest marches to snippets of politicians and voiceovers which has the feel of a newsreel. Maybe this is the point, the 24/7 existence and news in general – it is genius how Ministry knits this together. What is clever is that not every voice is heard, some reside under the surface which strains the ears but does add an almost ethereal quality. Moral Hygiene is never dull but it is those different tempos that makes an album that flows; the scythe like metal abrasiveness and a storming bass line on Sabotage Is Sex which features Jello Biafra and is a perfect pairing to march against police brutality. Or the Middle Eastern shadow that overlays Broken System; Death Toll is a barrage of samples which tells the story of politics and the pandemic. Disinformation is a pounder with jarring guitar spills and throbbing bass lines with the running kick to the face theme of “fake news” whereas the haunting We Will Resist practically crawls.
Ministry is not exactly reinventing their wheel and while Moral Hygiene may not be pushing the industrial envelope, it is hardly lazy either, an album that sits well within the context of the Ministry discography but searches for ways to sound fresh. Jourgensen can spirit us away to the past with some of his vocals and there are echoes to classic albums such as the Psalm 69 – such as the aforementioned Sabotage Is Sex – but the album is no rehash, it is a terrific sounding record that is loaded with that angst and despair set in its pulsing industrial landscape. There are still surprises. The stand out track – depending on the listeners viewpoint as it could be for the worst or best reasons – is the cover of The Stooges’ Search And Destroy which takes the original tempo and slows it way down. Maybe the usual ‘Ministry way’ would be to do the opposite and while it is an interesting version, it does feel out of place. Closing with the head fuck that is TV Song Right Around The Corner (a sequel to Psalm’s TV Song II which was also a sequel) has Jourgensen’s battle cry of taking our lives back. The pace is frenetic to say the least and so much that being cold cocked with an Uzi would be less painful in comparison but the electronic blastbeats are the perfect ending. An exhausting finale but left on repeat and back to opening song Alert Level lurches in comparison but the “how concerned are you?” makes even more sense in its questioning.
Moral Hygiene is undeniably a very focused piece of work, more spirited than Amerikkkant and thoroughly enjoyable with it; an industrial tour-de-force that pulls zero punches lyrically and has plenty to explore in repeated plays. With a band that is on point and Jourgensen not holding back as to his take on a broken world, Moral Hygiene is clout for the heart and soul as well as the ears.
Moral Hygiene is out now on Nuclear Blast Records