With sympathy for the dark side of the spoon
A short article about the first 15 years of Ministry
I was introduced to the music of ministry in 1996, by way of a cassette copy of their album “Filth pig” which came out earlier that year. From the first seconds of “reload” to the last notes of “brick windows” I was mesmerized. The only thing I had heard that was remotely similar at that point was Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, but this was a completely different animal. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the most “un-industrial” release in the bands catalog before OR since. It wasn’t long before I was gratefully digging through the rest of this band’s releases, finding very little disappointment in the process. In the rest of this article I’m going to touch a little bit on each of those releases, as well as throw in a few fascinating and sometimes ugly facts about the band and their de facto leader Al Jourgensen.
With Sympathy (1983)
I don’t have much to say about this one, it kind of sucks. Al Jourgensen himself has nothing good to say about it either. It’s basically Electro-Pop music in the vein of Pet Shop Boys. Jourgensen himself has said that it was something the record label pressured him into doing, and to be honest, it’s a brief, ignorable footnote in the legacy of this otherwise awesome band.
This is where the fun starts. By this point, Al and company had switched record labels, moving to sire records, and beginning to really do what they wanted to musically. Al has said that a lot of the songs on this release were songs he had been playing before the release of with sympathy, but the label thought it was too dark and underground sounding. This album is still a far cry from what ministry would eventually sound like. However, the beats on this are heavy and driving, and the electronic “melodies” are very dark and very much minor in key. The band employed production help from legendary UK electronic producer Adrian Sherwood (who would later help ministry fan and like-minded musician Trent Reznor with production on the first Nine Inch Nails release). Al has said he spent much of the time recording this album speeding on a powerful English amphetamine called “whiz” and almost getting hit by cars driving on the “wrong side of the road”, as well as taking frequent trips to the bathroom to scrawl notes on toilet paper of Sherwood’s equalization and mixing board settings. Another fun fact about this one is that ministry had famed Pink Floyd album cover artist Storm Thorgerson film the video for “over the shoulder”. Apparently Thorgerson had the two kids in the video actually steal a car for real during the shoot, with the remainder of the video being shot in a grocery store that they broke into at night.
The Land of Rape and Honey (1988)
This release saw the arrival of longtime band-mate/co-producer/bass player Paul barker. This album is also the first to employ Heavy distorted guitar and bass, giving the music a more aggressive metallic edge. This shit basically sounds like what I imagine the terminator would listen to while he’s wiping out a police force. Apparently Jourgensen employed the “cut-up” method with the analog tape samples on this record, much like one of his heroes, William S. Burroughs did, when writing his legendary book “Naked Lunch”. Fitting, considering that that book details many of the horrors of heroin addiction, something that had seeped into Al Jourgensen’s personal life during the making of this dark and powerful record.
The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste (1989)
For many fans, this album and time period is where the band really hit their stride. This release was supported by a tour from 1989 through 1990 which featured guitar player Mike Scaccia (from Texas thrashers “Rigor Mortis”) as well as second drummer Martin Atkins to handle the complicated rhythm sampling. Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy also was featured on this tour, handling keyboard and backup vocal duties. Ogre’s band had also had Jourgensen do production work on their release “Rabies” that same year (an excellent industrial album). From the jackhammer riffing of “thieves” to the ethereal dirge of “dream song”, this album is all killer. This time period also gave birth to numerous side projects, the longest running one being the “Revolting Cocks” or as fans often refer to them, “RevCo”. Other side projects were “1000 Homo DJ’s” which featured Trent Reznor doing vocals on an awesome cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut”. “Pailhead” was a one-off project with Al Jourgensen and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi fame. “Lard” was Jourgensen’s side project featuring Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. These are only a few of the numerous side projects during this creative period about which I could write an entire other article about.
Psalm 69: the way to succeed and the way to suck eggs (1992)
This album saw Jourgensen and company shifting almost entirely away from keyboards and synths to focus more on Mike Scaccia’s heavy metal riffing combined with pounding industrial drumbeats. Jourgensen has since gone on record admitting that himself, Scaccia, and Jourgensen’s then wife Patty, spent the entire $75,000 advance from the record label on heroin, crack, and Bushmills whiskey laced with LSD. Ultimately the only work they had produced from this VERY expensive drug binge was “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, which is basically a thrash metal song with samples about drag racing and drunken gibberish vocals from the Butthole Surfers front man Gibby Haynes. Naturally the record label was furious, to which Al replied “double down or lose 75 grand, I don’t care either way”. The label doubled down and gave him another $75,000, Oh, the nineties! This album is definitely the most well-known of all the ministry releases, something that has a lot to do with the music videos which were on heavy rotation on MTV at the time. Another fun fact is that Author William S. Burroughs collaborated with the band for the song “just one fix” as well as the music video.
Filth Pig (1996)
As I said at the beginning of this article, this album was my first exposure to the band, and is still my favorite album. This album sounds NOTHING like any other ministry release before or since. I think there’s literally only one keyboard part on the whole album, and only a few samples to speak of. The instrumentation is creative and hard to pinpoint at times, for instance, for years I thought the tinkly glass-sounding part in “reload” was a sample of some kind, only to find out years later it was a mandolin, that’s right. A fucking mandolin. The years leading up to this album found Al Jourgensen in what is most likely the darkest time of his life, and he has often said he strongly dislikes playing songs off of this album. Luckily for me he curbed that dislike when I recently saw them and they closed their set with a crushing rendition of “filth pig” the title track of the album (thanks Al!) Apparently, he was completely strung out on heroin and going through an ugly divorce, as well as living with famed psychologist/LSD guru Timothy Leary. The darkness of this period is well documented on the “FIX” documentary which was released a few years ago. It’s also noteworthy that this is the last release for a while to feature guitarist Mike Scaccia, as he left the band prior to the tour to support the album due to his own addiction issues. This album also features an unlikely but awesome cover of Bob Dylan’s “lay lady lay”. One song on here that eluded me for a long time that ended up becoming my favorite track off of the album is “The Fall”, crank up the volume and turn out the lights and enjoy!
Dark Side of the Spoon (1999)
This Album saw Ministry further experimenting with instrumentation and even some jazz influence via saxophone. Again my ears were fooled when listening to “nursing home” what I thought was a staccato synth melody is actually an effected banjo. “Bad Blood” off of this album was featured on the soundtrack for the first matrix film and nominated for a Grammy. The band dedicated this Album to their sometimes guitar player William Tucker, Who took an overdose of pain medication and slit his own throat, apparently due to the pain of a year of living with a terminal illness. All in all, I find this one to be more of a cold, synthetic sounding record than the others from the nineties. Critically, it wasn’t well received, but it grew on me a lot in recent years. I hope you guys find this article useful as a guide to some great music, Enjoy!