Music Music: New Releases

FOH First Listen: Surgical Meth Machine – “Tragic Alert”

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by Ryan Meehan

Over the weekend Nuclear Blast released a new teaser video for “Tragic Alert”, the first single off of the new record from Surgical Meth Machine. If you’re not familiar with the project, this is the most recent musical venture for Ministry mastermind Al Jourgensen which will see a worldwide full-length release on April 15 of 2016.

As most of you know, Al was pretty traumatized when former Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia died of a heart attack after a December 2012 gig at The Rail Club in Fort Worth, Texas. He went on record right away saying that Ministry was done and that we wouldn’t be hearing any more music under that name in the near future.

Losing someone close to you is beyond troubling:  They’re seemingly always there, and then one day they aren’t. You begin to constantly question yourself about whether or not you could have potentially spent more time with them, among the many other horrible thoughts that accompany such an event. But those thoughts eventually pass, and although I am certainly not suggesting in anyway that Al was dishonest in wanting to distance himself from the band that he has structured his sometimes very unstructured life around, I knew that he would eventually be back in the studio soon. He doesn’t really seem like the type of dude that sits on his own work solely for his own personal enjoyment.

Enter Nuclear Blast Records – whose employees have had a busy weekend with the release of the new Anthrax to say the very least –  who have made the sound business decision to release this LP in what will hopefully be six very short weeks from now. The record is described by Uncle Al on as “craziness” and features “Nothing under 220 beats per minute”. (Although in other interviews Al has stated that some of the stuff towards the end of the LP sounds, like Wayne Newton, so not sure what’s going on with the conflicting reports there…) In other words, it should be everything that we’ve come to know and love about Ministry, only taken to the next level with regards to speed and intensity.

But keep in mind, that’s an awfully tall order. Al’s body of work is both a gift and a curse to everything that he releases from here on out. It’s almost impossible to think that he could top what he’s done thus far in his career, so while his previous accomplishments provide motivation to create more mind-blowing industrial music, that also means shithead journalists like myself will tend to compare everything he releases in the future to tracks like “Freefall” and TV2″. In my defense, it’s pretty hard not to do just that.

The first single “Tragic Alert” continues to explore some of the same lyrical thematic fodder that Jourgensen seems to be so set on aligning himself with. The lyric video – likely just a promo for the new record, existing separately from the end product of what Al’s creative vision for the official video will be like but still working off of the same themes – addresses the constant barrage of death soaked images that make up the twenty-four hour news cycle in which we currently live. He’s not wrong – I can’t remember any time in my life where we’ve had more access to beheading-related news stories – and a big part of me thinks that maybe the repetitious nature of the term “Execution” in the song itself is more of a social commentary as opposed to content that could be misconstrued as redundant. If the first of those who theories happens to be the case, that’s just more sheer brilliance on Al’s part.

The music itself isn’t particularly complicated…but the tones of the instruments themselves are on point. The guitars are very similar to the sound achieved on both “Relapse” and “Rio Grande Blood”, and the machine-gun kick drums that Al has come to perfect over the years sound better than ever. It’s unlikely that we’ll hear anything prog-sounding out of the Jourgensen compound, and that’s fine with me. I’ve already read a ton of negative comments on the Blabbermouth Facebook about how “Industrial died back in ’95” and the standard horseshit moronic drivel we’ve come to expect from the hoards of fucksticks that comment on that site’s social networking threads, and I don’t really understand how that method of thinking continues to perpetuate itself. Technology is all over the place more so now than ever, so why wouldn’t industrial music be all the rage at every corner? And even when you consider all of the ProTools based editing going on with cuts such as this one, doesn’t manipulation of said technology become an art in and of itself?

Of all people, I’d be willing to bet that Al Jourgensen gives less than an eighth of a fuck about the answer to those and similar questions. That attitude is very apparent in the nature of this song, one which undertakes a really intense tempo increase starting about two-thirds of the way through. But here again, instead of being done for shock value perhaps we are seeing Uncle Al giving his insight as to how ridiculous and silly that same media death blitz is about to go from here. If every week we’re reading a new thinkpiece about how “Idiocracy” is now a documentary, maybe the premiere season of “Rehabilitation” is just around the bend. The urgency of such panic induced by the saturation of images of torture and senseless violence in the name of religion is enough to send my brain in the direction of wanting to write music which sounds a lot like “Tragic Alert”, and although I’m sure it does irreversible damage to my psyche I can honestly say maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s almost impossible to score this track for several reasons. First, given that it’s under a different pseudonym and doesn’t bear the Ministry name it’s hard to accept it as anything close to a new Ministry record. But then again, Al is Ministry so it’s difficult to disassociate the name with this project because it is so similar. Second, this is only one of twelve songs on the new album which we haven’t yet heard yet. The good news is that Jourgensen hasn’t lost a single shred of the abrasiveness that brought his previous work to our stereos with ripping fervor, and at fifty-seven years of age that’s a stiff glass of something delicious. But if you’re not a fan of anything that sounds like it consists of a great deal of percussive programming, then you’re probably going to loathe this more than you’ve ever hated any of Al’s music up until this point. The samples are still just every bit as frantic as we’ve all come to expect from this guy, but I’m sure it’s not that challenging to come up with forty-five solid seconds of news anchors verbally shitting their pants over the latest ISIS video or whatever Trump said about Hispanics this morning.

It’s possible the message here is to rise above the projected fear of the media, as suggested by the tagline “Watch your head”. But it’s also possible that what’s being implied is that fear only exists if acknowledged at all. It’s not in any way plausible to imagine not consuming any of the media that has consumed our lives at all, so maybe these are just random thoughts Al has had in passing when trying to avoid the bombasticly overwhelming amount of such infotainment which we can’t avert.

The one thing that I would say about this song is that the totality of the project seems to be more concerned with one final sound or mix than the individual components themselves. This is not by any means a situation where the whole would not be greater than the sum of its parts. And although I’m familiar with Aristotle, I have to admit I know very little about Sam D’Ambruoso – the engineer whom Al created this record with. I would say that Jourgensen being able to kick heroin allows for him to make more comprehensive and focused records, and although his later work seems more to the frame than ever…no matter how much of a mess he was he always produced a quality finished product. So there goes that fucking argument.

It’s my own personal belief that before or around the year 2020, we’ll see another Ministry album. The time clearly isn’t right now, but I’m sure after this election cycle there will be more than enough material for ten to fifteen songs no matter who our next president is. And since I’m a sad sappy sucker, I’ll be there for it waiting with open arms and a heavily damaged liver. In the meantime, this will more than suffice.

Al’s Official Website:

Surgical Meth Machine on Facebook:

Al on Twitter:

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