The Evolution of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen

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Via Intonarumoron:

The first two Ministry albums I heard were With Sympathy and Filth Pig. I can’t remember which one I got first, but they sounded completely different not just from each other, but from what I expected Ministry to sound like — something like Skinny Puppy or Nine Inch Nails.

How did Ministry begin with such pop roots and emerge as a heavy metal band? Jourgensen has claimed he was forced by the record company and his producers to create a pop album. Others have speculated that he discovered hardcore punk later in life and was converted.

“The singer has been accused of punk posturing on the video for ‘Stigmata,’ which has him decked out in skinhead garb and wallowing in a pile of trash,” the Phoenix Times wrote in 1988, following the release of The Land of Rape and Honey.

Neither version of the story is true. And while skipping straight from “Revenge” to “No W” would be quite a shock, there’s actually a steady progression in the sound over the years. This evolution has been a fascination of mine for a long time, and may be the thing I like most about his work.

On their own, most of Ministry’s albums aren’t great. There’s a forgettable synthpop album, a poppy EBM album that’s OK if you like that sort of thing, two rather confused industrial rock albums with a few good tracks, one excellent alternative metal album, a below average sludge metal album and a bunch of above average speed metal albums.

But considered as a whole — as a single continuum instead of several discrete works — Jourgensen’s albums are much more interesting.

His authorized biography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen by Jon Wiederhorn, provides some insight into how all of this came to be, but it’s often at odds with contemporaneous interviews he gave. I’m not interested in proving whether Jourgensen is being entirely truthful in his account of what transpired at Arista records, but in gaining more understanding in how and why Jourgensen’s music changed over the years.

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  • echar

    Oh man, that Same Old Madness song is tits.

  • Jeramie Walton

    Drugs….duh.

  • Dingbert

    Stopped listening after “The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.” The guitars ruined everything for me, except the lyrics. “Twitch” remains my favorite.

    • Matt Staggs

      I think the first album I bought by those guys was “Land of Rape and Honey”. Dug it. Kind of dropped out after “Filth Pig”.

      • Eric_D_Read

        Yea. Ministry really fell off for me when it became more or less a straight metal band. I love metal, but there are plenty of bands out there already doing it better than Ministry.

        Still a great live show though.

    • Dingbert

      Not to say guitars don’t belong in industrial/whatever. I love NDH stuff like Rammstein and Oomph! But the first bands of a genre you hear tend to shape things down the road. I remember first hearing SPK, Einstuerzende Neubauten, and Cabaret Voltaire in elementary school (thanks, dad!), so there you go.

  • InfvoCuernos

    I dislike when people “call out” a musician for not being legit enough. People change. Was Al into punk all along? Who cares, dude’s got his forehead tattooed and used to live with Timothy Leary so who really cares if he discovered punk later in life, its been a full life. “Never trust a junkie”-words to live by.

    • Matt Staggs

      Yeah, it always seems kind of “junior high” to me.

  • Adam’s Shadow

    Grandpappy Al!

    I still lose my shit every time I hear “N.W.O.”

  • BrianApocalypse

    Ministry stopped being interesting after Psalm 69 IMO. I remember buying Filth Pig and being shocked at how awful it was. To my mind, that’s when Ministry lost their edge and turned into fairly generic metal.I love everything before that, I even like the early electro pop stuff. They rode the 90′s industrial wave perfectly, but like several other industrial bands who lost their original inspiration, they turned to guitars and became some kind of watered down electro-metal sludge.

  • Dan Muench

    Ok, always know it’s fashionable to diss a band’s later work, and I myself really am done and over with ‘em after “I wanna collaborate with Lil’ Wayne” and 99%ers…

    But, no love for ‘No W’? Sorry man, when I had to get up and be a slave every morning, hating life, and had to shake off sleep and the urge to just say ‘fuck it’ and go back to bed instead of breaking concrete in the hot Florida sun, I’d BLAST No W, then some old Misfits. Blood pumping helps the ganj take effect faster, only have so much time to blaze while the car was warming up…

    I remember reading a Rolling Stone where they’re congratulating the Dinosaur himself Neil Young on making ‘the first concept album about George W Bush’…as they also reviewed Houses of the Molé, Ministry’s SECOND such concept album, later on in the same issue. Guess it doesn’t count unless your guitars are vintage.

    It’s kind of a ‘Panterasucks.com’ style of thing but at the same time is revelatory all the same. Stuff I didn’t know about, and I’ve owned mix tapes made by the singer of Foetus, had friends who worked at Earwax (the record store for Wax Trax!), am QUITE aware of the thieving some other Chicago industrialists were up to, as well (tell me you don’t hear half the same sequences is NIN’s first album as you do on LORH and Twitch). So they had company in that regard.

    Just saying, it’s not like I’ve never heard Front 242 or Frontline Assembly or even Z’ev, who is a true ‘influencer of influencers’ in industrial…hell while we’re at it, don’t forget Tom Waits’ 80′s work. Doesn’t sound like industrial, used the same toolkit though and they all knew it – after all, Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen cover somebody, you take notice, especially if you’re kinda related in the musical realm.

    There was info I’d either glossed over or simply hadn’t heard, and if nothing else, remember folks, if you’re not that talented, it’s never stopped anyone before…

    Not to mention, the latter day Ministry was a TOP NOTCH speed metal band – Mike Scaggia on guitar and Joey Jordison on drums was a pretty decent band aid for Paul leaving.

    Filth Pig turned out not that bad in retrospect, and Animositisomina would be great if someone edited like half the ‘repeats’ out of it. 3 minute songs, Al, not 7 of the same three good riffs…

    Still, though, can’t say his influence isn’t huge – after all, Trent left a WT development deal to sign with Interscope. Ministry, NIN, and Trent’s finding Manson – you erase Al, you erase a lot of the 90′s. Might be a good thing, depending on your tastes, but all the same, ’tis true. Even Big Black – how many records and such did they sell because someone said ‘Ministry? Fuck Ministry, I’m putting on ‘Songs About Fucking’ for you right now…’