Album Review Music

ALBUM REVIEW: MINISTRY – “RELAPSE”

by Ryan Meehan
 
I am going to try and do my best at reviewing this album with no bias, and there’s no question that it’s going to be a serious challenge.  Ministry has always fascinated me.  Growing up three hours from Chicago we used to hear all sorts of crazy stories come down the pipe about those guys since they used to record at a studio up there.  For example, it would not be out of the ordinary for them to show up at 2AM with twenty of their friends for a recording session that was scheduled for noon the previous day.  I still consider Psalm 69 to be one of the most overlooked albums from that era and ever since then I found myself constantly rifling through the old stuff such as “The Land of Rape and Honey” and “Twitch”.

To be honest, I thought both “Filth Pig” and “Dark Side of the Spoon” were very weak releases.  It’s not that I wasn’t sure that those records weren’t the best he had to offer, it’s just that there didn’t seem to be as much depth and by that point it was pretty obvious that the dope had a stranglehold over Al and his counterpart Paul Barker.  In the late 90s and early 00s most fans had almost completely forgotten about Ministry. 

But in 2006, “Rio Grande Blood” came out and dropped some no bullshit industrial knowledge on a modern rock genre that had been wrongfully violated by all of the rap-rock garbage coming out at the time.  Essentially most of these kids thought that they were too old to listen to the easy stuff, but not too young to skateboard.  So Ministry was sort of all over the place for the “average listener” that was buying records at the time.  Nonetheless, the album really worked for me and I thought it was great.  The drum patterns were very transferrable to a live setting, and you really got the feeling that it was on again. 

This is the cover they didn’t like

Just two years later, Al had announced that Ministry was toast.  I didn’t really believe it at first but then I thought “Well, they have done pretty much all there is to do”.  He’s done countless side projects and remixes, then there’s all of the Revolting Cocks stuff, and it just goes on and on…But I figured that he would eventually get the itch, and thankfully it didn’t take long. 

Now, Ministry is back together in serious form and plans to return to the stage this summer at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany.  Part of this industrial assault on the music business is the release of his new album “Relapse”, once again made complete with the guitar work of Tommy Victor from Prong.  From the very first track it’s clear that Al is extremely angry with the entire industry, and he seems to believe that the people who work in the business of selling records operate under the motive that he’s “worth more dead than alive, because when you’re dead, they can sell you off in pieces…”   Although it sounds like a very paranoid statement, it’s very true.  Think about all of the T-shirts and posters that were printed after Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia died.  I had a friend who ran a clothing store and his business exploded after each of those two things happened.  The rest of the album explores various different issues, but for the most part keeps with the theme of his struggles with sobriety.  Hence the album title “Relapse”, which we’ll now examine track by track:

MINISTRY:  “RELAPSE” – ORD  03/23/12

1.   “Ghouldiggers”  9.4/10.0

Nine point four is a disastrously low score for a track this badass.  To summarize, this is what happens:  The song begins with this very cool tapping guitar riff in D that slowly builds up while Uncle Al explains the shallowness of the music business.  It doesn’t take long, but it builds up to being super rad as fuck.  It’s more of a math metal riff than anything, and for a seven minute song it sure doesn’t feel like it.  The vocals on this track are coupled with this sort of ongoing “skit” in which Al is attempting to get a hold of his manager, whom he eventually learns is “at lunch, on a call, at a meeting, on vacation and out of the country”  The receptionist then informs him that his manager has in fact relayed a message to him “to call back when you’re dead”.  At first listen you might be able to think that this is the complaining of a rock star past his prime, but in reality it’s awfully accurate when you think about it.  The song in its entirety is what we should really be looking at and the song rules.  Very impressive way to start a record. 

2.  “Double Tap”  8.8/10.0

I’m pretty sure this song is about the Osama Bin Laden mission.  It’s a great bridge from song 1 to song 3.  I can’t figure out how he’s portraying it though:  Does he think it was a barbaric mission unjustifiably carried out by the United States Navy?  I would assume that’s the case, seeing as how “double-tap” is a term used by the United States military to describe taking two shots at a similar target with the purpose of destroying it.  And since that’s exactly what the Seals did, I’m thinking he wanted to use the idea for this song.  Regardless of the lyrics, the editing is awesome, and is a perfect example of what can be done with ProTools. 

3.  “Free Fall”  9.7/10.0

Just when you thought the first act couldn’t get any darker, here comes “Free Fall” which Al once again samples himself warning all of us of the dangers of “Croak”.   For those of you who don’t know, croak is a hybrid of rock and chiva and can kill you within seconds of inhalation or insufflations.  Once the initial samples during the intro are finished, the song kicks in with some ruthless speed metal.  This is my favorite track on the record because I’m a sucker for prechoruses, and this song moves very smoothly from verse to prechorus into the eventual chorus. 

4.  “Kleptocracy”  8.4/10.0 

The transition from “Free Fall” into “Kleptocracy” is flawless.  This song is cool, but I feel they repeat the chorus too many times.  If I’m not mistaken, I think the sample from this song is actually Nancy Pelosi who I’m not a fan of, but the quote works really well within this context.  The title is in reference to all of the recent problems all of the American financial institutions have been having, which I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for.

5.  “United Forces”  8.3/10.0  (Stormtroopers of Death) 

First of all, how big of a set of balls do you have to have to do a fucking SOD cover?  Given it isn’t one of the more offensive tracks that they are known for, but seriously…  If you’re not familiar with Stormtroopers of death, they were a crossover thrash band in the mid eighties formed by Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormtroopers_Of_Death  Sure, the lyrics were a bit of a joke and they were more playing a character band than anything else, but still “Speak English or Die” is a record that gives everybody who listens to it a nice chuckle because we all know somebody who talks and acts like that. 

6.  “99 Percenters”  7.6/10.0

I don’t know if I’m sure that I would have chosen this as the single.  It’s a decent song, and of course the lyrics are in reference to the recent “Occupy Wall Street” protests, but I just can’t get behind the counting thing.  What I bet he was going for here was something that could catch as a bit of an anthem, in other words something that could catch on and be very “chant-oriented”.  Some of the reviews that I read about this one were not so favorable and I can definitely see why. 

7.  “Relapse”  8.2/10.0

By this point in the album, it seems like the samples have gotten to be more obscure.   Since the theme here is sobriety, I’m guessing that some of them are coming from some kind of a Narcanon meeting.   For whatever reason, I can hear a lot of older sounding Ministry in this, especially when the chorus comes in.  This track could easily be on Psalm 69 or possibly even an earlier record.  You can hear that he’s definitely seen it all and done it all, and if Al ever does relapse again it will likely be due to his disconnect from the excitement of the general enjoyment of life’s activities.  (“Well, I’m filthy rich, and I’m horny…but you just fucking bore me…”)  In other words I think for the most part he’s beat the addiction thing, he just hasn’t found much outside of making records that makes him happy. 

8.   “Weekend Warrior”  7.15/10.0

Stop and go dynamics, very simple.  I’m going to draw a very strange parallel here:  When I was in high school, the drummer in the band that I was in brought up a very interesting point about the Primus song “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers”.  Music is supposed to be all in how you interpret it, but that song is particularly confusing because you can’t tell if Les is writing the song to be pro-blue collar workers (as evidenced by the fact that they are “beloved in this town” and “have always run it”) or against blue collar workers. (as evidenced by his insistence that the subject of the song was aided in hanging drywall by “a trip or two to the blue room” and the general sarcastic tone by which he “pays his respects” to blue collar America)  “Weekend Warrior” is the same type of song to me, he’s singing the track from the perspective of a blue collar guy that isn’t too fond of his job and whose only focus is getting to Friday at 5PM so that he can get wasted.  It’s hard to tell and you can’t always assume that Al is trying to be sarcastic. 

Not being sarcastic

9.   “Get Up, Get Out N’ Vote”  6.8/10.0

Decent message, but seems a little bit too cheesy for me.  At least it sets the message to a very heavy triple picked thrash hook, however I just think that anybody who’d go through the trouble of listening to Ministry probably has already made their mind up about a lot of sociopolitical issues and doesn’t need to be told to get out and vote.  The sentiment is appreciated (if you believe in that sort of thing, I generally don’t) but for the most part I would doubt that anybody hearing a track like this in any setting would be teetering or “on the fence” so to speak.  In other words, I don’t see this catching on and becoming the anthem of the 2012 election. 

10.   “Bloodlust”  7.1/10.0 

The beginning of this song sounds like something that Tim Sult from Clutch would write.  It has this real sleaze blues thing going on, and the thing that I notice most about this track is that there is a riff towards the middle of the song that sounds a lot like “Hole in the Sky” by Black Sabbath.  It’s hard to deny Sabbath’s influence on modern heavy music, and Al (along with his pal Trent Reznor) covered “Supernaut” off of “Black Sabbath Volume 4” for a side project they did together called “1000 Homo DJs”.  Does it fit in with the pace of the rest of the record?  Probably not. 

11.   “Relapse” (Remix)  6.0/10.0

Given that it is a remix, it’s no surprise that I hear a lot of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult influence here.  The synth hook is tight, but once the sample has run its course (it only takes about 12 bars to do so) it becomes very annoying.  The sample just repeats the phrase “smoke more marijuana” over and over again until you want to rip your hair out.  I can’t tell if he doesn’t consider smoking marijuana to be doing drugs, or if he’s just trying to work through his sobriety on a step-down program, or whatever…But there’s not a whole lot that I feel even a DJ could do with this one.  Very confusing and mind numbingly repetitive.  I don’t hear the original chorus either, and usually during a remix you find that you hear that more often than on the original song. 

Vocals:  B

I’ve read a couple reviews that say some of the lyrics on this record are corny and predictable, and while I don’t agree with such statements I can certainly understand where they come from.  The actual vocals themselves are very good but there is sort of a “teen angst trapped in a middle-aged man” thing going on.  But he gives it his all and one of the best parts about Ministry is 95% of the time (the exception being the example of “Weekend Warriors”) you know that Al believes 100% of whatever he’s saying.  He lives his art and that’s more than you can say for a majority of artists nowadays.

Guitars:  A-

You’d have to have been listening to only adult contemporary for the past two decades to not catch that Tommy Victor is playing on this record.  It’s a pretty tough one to miss.

Bass:  B-

It’s Ministry, so for the most part the bass is going to be buried in the mix.  The only time it was really prevalent was during the SOD cover, and it did sound chunky then but other than that it didn’t really stand out

Drums/Programming:  B

See Below for more information.

Subtlety:  F

And that’s not a bad thing.  Aside from a few select moments, Al leaves very little to the imagination.

OVERALL SCORE:  8.4/10.0

I want to give this album a better mark, I really do.  But there was a significant dropoff in overall energy around the middle that I didn’t hear on Rio Grande Blood, which I would have given a 9.3.  That album didn’t let up, and I’d be a liar if I said the same about this one.  It’s a “catch 22” situation because although you can crave new music from a certain artist, filler always disappoints. 

Added Production note:  Drum machines are great because save the very rare occurrence, they never fucking screw up.  However, all drum machines, sequencers and software seem to have the same common problem:  They never get the cymbal sound right.  You never get that nice, smooth 16″ or 17″ Zildjian A Custom sound that’s so rich and deep.  Most programmed crash cymbals sound like splashes.  Very short sounding, ten inch, abbreviated crashes that lack depth.  And I’m not sure if that’s what a band like Ministry strives for in order to sound mechanical, but that’s how it comes out.  I suppose it just surprises me that after all these years and all this technology that’s the one thing that there’s never been a lot of progress in. 

It should be interesting to see what happens with Ministry from here on out.  If he wants to stay sober good for him, it’s not like he doesn’t know what the opposite of that feels like.  I’m anxious to see what the reviews of the Wacken show will say, and now that Al’s daughter is all grown up this may pave the way for them to do another tour which would be awesome. 

Ministry did several webisodes documenting the making of their new record.  Here is an example of what you might see if you watched them all:

Webisode 7:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXlTDW_RDeA&feature=relmfu

Official Ministry Website at Thirteenth Planet:  http://www.thirteenthplanet.com/ministry/
 
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content. 
 
Meehan

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