Ministry's Industrial-Strength Truth Bombs Are Fiercely Entertaining Too

Warehouse Live
June 4, 2015

Certain musicians revel in their role as self-appointed scourge of the powerful. Someone like Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, for example, specializes in squeezing as much corruption and greed as he can squeeze into his four- and five-minute blast-furnace songs. His main wish with each successive album seems to be to further expose the government's sinister agenda of turning its citizens into mindless puppets with little hope of free will or a say in their own destiny.

Heavy stuff, and not for the faint of heart, but a role Jourgensen was born to play. Since at least 1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey, he’s been plowing through the darker aspects of human nature with a phalanx of guitar, electronic effects and drums, the template of modern industrial music as we know it today. He is one of the principal architects of a type of music whose very name implies mechanization, pollution and wholesale a lack of humanity. However, Ministry wouldn’t have lasted this long if they weren’t also terrifically entertaining, and in that respect Jourgensen may not get enough credit

Although you might not guess to see them in concert, a big question mark has been hanging over Ministry since the December 2012 death of guitarist Mike Scaccia. The Dallas-based longtime Jourgensen crony was also a founding member of Rigor Mortis, the influential on-and-off DFW thrash group with whom Scaccia was playing when he suffered a fatal heart attack onstage — but not before finishing his parts for Ministry’s most recent album, From Beer to Eternity. Where the band goes when this “From Beer to EternaTour” is finally over only one man can say, but Eternity was released in September 2013, so Jourgensen (who has nearly retired Ministry many times before) is at the very least apparently weighing his options very carefully.
This past Thursday's set before a respectable Warehouse Live Ballroom crowd wound in reverse chronology back to a frenzied “Thieves” and protracted, furiously tribal closer “So What,” classics from '89's A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste that have only grown more menacing over the years. But a quarter-century is still a lot of ground to cover by morning, and took about 90 minutes from the murky electronics of tongue-in-cheek grind “Hail to His Majesty” and thrash barrage “Punch In the Face” to the climactic prime cuts from 1992's Psalm 69, which stirred up the biggest pits of the night for “N.W.O.” and “Just One Fix.” Jourgensen and his five henchmen are so deafening and bass-heavy it creates an almost white-noise effect, although the copious amount of weed smoke billowing throughout the hall certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s also very cathartic, and a number of people were seized with all manner of contortions even before the heavy pitting started.

Whoever Jourgensen has doing Ministry's visual effects deserves time and a half, too. The screen behind the stage was constantly filled with all sorts of transgressive and violent imagery from raunchy slogans like “pearl necklaces for everyone,” boxing matches and hockey fights, out-of-control weather behind “Perfect Storm,” and grainy footage of fires and long-ago police beatings in “N.W.O.” By far, the most over-the-top set piece was the maniacally clever doctoring of Fox News footage during “Fairly Unbalanced,” all the way up to replacing the “O” in “Fox” with a swastika.
Still, it’s funny; Jourgensen is about the most outspoken musician-critic of state-sponsored military aggression anywhere, but the images onscreen were no more intense or disturbing than anything in American Sniper. And the old riot footage in the latter part of the set could have been easily been replaced with scenes from Baltimore this past spring. But we also got Jourgensen's cameo as an El Paso TV weatherman a while back, too, a hint that the front man might take himself a little less seriously than Ministry’s typical subject matter.

The music, though, was unrelenting, despite ranging in tempo between a steady chug and all-out breakneck assault. But the rage that pervades Ministry's sound is tempered quite a bit by their front man's almost avuncular behavior onstage; there doesn't seem to be much irony in that “Uncle Al” nickname. He introduced “PermaWar” by saying “Well, it seems we're going back to war again...” in the same tone someone's mother might say, “Well, you left the milk on the counter again...” And the half-smiles that flickered across his face every so often, or occasionally kicking his legs in a sort of half-jig, gave away that he must be enjoying his role of ringmaster of Ministry's demonic circus. He even cupped his hands to his ears while motioning toward the crowd like Hulk Hogan a couple of times.

It would be interesting to see Jourgensen debate someone like Alex Jones sometime. On the surface, both men seem to hold similar viewpoints on a lot of things; namely that our governmental officials are not there for our protection but are instead are monitoring our every activity in order to exploit us at every turn. Unlike Jones, though, there doesn’t seem to be much fear behind what Jourgensen does, but in its place quite a bit of camp. Certainly his own history of overcoming about every addiction known to man suggests he's sunk to depths that most people couldn't survive; and yet, here he is, still here. Factor in Ministry’s recent tragic history and the fact that Jourgensen can still go out there and smile in front of a ballroom full of fans suggests he’s made of even stronger material than one of his songs.
Personal Bias: Love the heavy stuff, but not ashamed to admit still liking "Revenge" and "Everyday Is Halloween" too.

The Crowd: Subculture city, from young Goth waifs to grizzled biker-looking older dudes with longer beards than a couple of the band members.

Spotted In the Crowd: A notice on the lighting engineer's stand that said "Warning: If you have epilepsy I may be the cause of your death."

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray