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Dilution of Evil

Has Ministry, at one time the reigning king of bad, lost its edge?

"This record has a looseness to it that was totally unacceptable three years ago," he adds. "It comes from deciding that we didn't want to chase our tails anymore, and we wanted to loosen up and see if we could, in fact, write music, as opposed to just sound montages, so to speak."

It's a swell idea, but songwise, Ministry can't write its way out of a hole in the ground, so to speak. Looseness is cool and everything, but swing will never be Ministry's draw. "Sound montages" are what the band was good at in the first place, and now that they're trying to write "loose songs," they lose what made them stand out: the pulse hammer of mechanized, decorated rhythm. As just a rock band, Ministry is a little boring. There's the occasional intriguing incongruity thrown in here and there -- the harmonica on Filth Pig's title track, a tinkling piano on "The Fall" and an electrified race through Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" that inexplicably grows on you -- but not much of the balls-out stylistic extremism that seems to have become the province of White Zombie in the four years since Ministry last released a CD.

And if White Zombie wears the crown of noise now, Ministry doesn't have much to offer in extremism's stead. All of Filth Pig rests on riffs -- which a band like the Melvins proves can be more than enough, but only if your riffs are as good as the Melvins' riffs. Only one Filth Pig riff is that memorable -- the one from the title track, and if it seems strangely familiar, that's because it is fundamentally indistinguishable from the riff repeated through the Melvins' "Night Goat."

Ministry has been handed a lot of rope as its chameleonic career has veered from disco to thrash to industrial to rumors of country, and rightly so, since for most of that time, the band could be relied upon to push one envelope or another. Filth Pig, though, sounds like Ministry might be hanging from a creative knot at said rope's end.

Or maybe it's just another With Sympathy-style "abortion" -- a misstep caused not by corporate interference, but by mere homesickness. And maybe now that everyone's back home and comfy in Chicago, Jourgensen and Barker can slip out of the noose they've constructed. Barker, at least, seems to think the album's progression is healthy. "One of my favorite aspects of the record," he says, "is that it's lo-fi and high tech at the same time. I think that's really cool." His favorite tune on the new album, for this very reason, is "Game Show."

"It's really loose and has a real low tech sound to it, yet there's still some really cool stuff going on. It's got some meat to it, and that's what I'm looking for," Barker says. "We're realizing that we can rock without relying on sequencers. That song of all the songs more or less points to a new direction."

Maybe on-stage in Houston Wednesday -- after a few good weeks on the road, and with the inspiring example of America's greatest live rock and roll band, the Jesus Lizard, opening the show for them -- Ministry will start once again to do more than point.

Ministry performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, at the International Ballroom, 14035 South Main. Tickets are $25. The Jesus Lizard and Laika and the Cosmonauts open. For info, call 629-3700.

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