Coming of age in the underground dance clubs of Chicago in the mid-80's, one couldn't escape the music of Ministry. Even before "Everyday Is Halloween" became the unofficial anthem for freaks of the underground, "Cold Life", "Work For Love", "I Wanted To Tell Her" and "All Day" had already laid the groundwork for something bigger...something much, much bigger.
Of course, as a young man growing up in the sticks of the Mitten State, I literally went in search of Ministry after reading a tiny blurb about the band in Trouser Press magazine that mentioned ex Psych Furs drummer Vince Ely and Cars engineer Ian Taylor had produced the band's debut album, With Sympathy.
Being a huge fan of both the Cars and the Psychedelic Furs at the time, this was all the information I needed to make a beeline for the nearest record store. Now, I wasn't necessarily hoping, or even expecting Ministry to sound like either of those bands, but knowing that this was a band operating in those general circles was enough for me because this was well before the days of listening stations, much less the internet.
And so began my life-long relationship with Ministry. While I would not count myself among the band's most devoted fans - the kind who pay hundreds of dollars for test pressings of the band's Wax Trax! singles and buy anything even remotely associated with Al Jourgensen or former members of the band - I will say that I great each new Ministry release with the hope of hearing something that connects with my soul the way those early records did.
With this in mind, it's time to rate the Top 5 Ministry albums worst to best:
5. The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste (1989)
After Jourgensen's addition of thrash guitars to his post-apocalyptic cocktail for The Land of Rape and Honey had met with moderate success at modern rock and college radio, quite frankly, I was curious to see how Uncle Al was going to top himself. Much like Lady Gaga found it harder and harder to top her last outrageous fashion statement, surely Jourgensen and co-conspirator Paul Barker must have been feeling the pressure.
After all, not only did they have to top their last aural assault, but, at some point, they would have to start moving some fucking units. Whether it was pressure or a temporarily productive balance of intoxicants that fueled the duo to reach new heights, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste remains a concisely potent punch of musical subversion that exists in its own musical universe.
There remains nothing like it to even compare it to, which makes describing its out-of-the-box genius all the more difficult. How does one describe the other-worldly, a deeper shade of black, or the day the world ceases to exist?
Best tracks: Thieves, Breathe, So What
4. The Land Of Rape And Honey (1988)
As someone who lapped up every wonderful second of Twitch, I still couldn't help wonder What would it sound like if guitars were added to the mix? Jourgensen must have been wondering the same thing because The Land of Rape And Honey opening cut "Stigmata" and "The Missing" both come out of the gate with guitars and four-string basses a-blaring, adding an organic human element to the. regimented drum machine rhythms, creating a delightful tension reminiscent of the best work from post-punk visionaries like Magazine, Gang of Four and PiL.
In hindsight, all the tell-tale signs of the aggro-thrash Ministry are here: the breakneck tempos, the clash-and-burn guitars, and the thunderous drum assault over the top of which Uncle Al screams to be heard.
Upon hearing the album for the first time, I remember wondering what the executives at Sire Records must have thought when Jourgensen turned in the album. Either they had incredible patience and vision or were simply looking for a write-off because their was no scenario where an album such as this was going to find a mass audience in the days of Poison and Bon Jovi. Lesser labels would have unceremoniously dropped the band after this album failed to crack the Top 100, but Sire remained curious enough to see where Jourgensen would go next to finance another record.
Best tracks: Golden Dawn, The Land Of Rape And Honey, Deity
By 1992, Ministry had completed its transformation from groundbreaking industrial duo on the fringes of mass acceptance to a maniacal sextet of drug-fueled maniacs hell-bent on looting their way into and out of the Top 40.
Despite their continuing search for new ways to bend metal and offend the Conservative Right, both musically and thematically, the album resulted in Ministry's first Grammy nomination and platinum certification for sales of over 1,000,000 copies. For Jourgenson, a man determined to undermine his own success, this must have been a complete head-fuck.
From the opening salvo of "N.W.O.", there is no rational way to connect this Ministry with any previous incarnation. It is at this point that many of the band's early fans depart the bandwagon in fear for their lives. This is due, in large part, to the debut of new guitarist Mike Scaccia, whose high-precision, rapid-fire riffage gives Jourgenson the necessary muscle to push the aggro-metal envelope.
Best tracks: N.W.O., Jesus Built My Hotrod, Scarecrow
2. With Sympathy (1983)
The fact that Jourgensen committed intentional career suicide and almost immediately distanced himself from this record does nothing to diminish my love for the majesty of songs like "Revenge" and "Effigy" that proved synth-pop could have an edge to it. In fact, that is what I loved most about the record; so much so that even the album's most ill-conceived and pandering moments ("What He Say" and "Say You're Sorry") still manage to delight in small doses.
For those of us who wanted to dip our toes in the world of synth-pop, but were looking for something a tad less whimsical than Thompson Twins or Wham!, With Sympathy was just what we'd been waiting for and whetted our appetite for more.
Best tracks: Revenge, Effigy (I'm Not An), Work For Love
1. Twitch (1986)
First off, let me just say that my adoration for this record is such that I still find new layers of genius buried within the tracks and have written at great length of my love for said album,
Not bad for an album that, on first listen, led me to consider that I may have been sold a defective copy, or that something had gone terribly wrong with my stereo. In hindsight, it is a testament to the music-starved teenager that I was that I kept listening and, in doing so, unlocking the majesty of a pivotal record that would lead me and many others down numerous musical paths in search of further sonic treasures,
Anyone familiar with how much effort went into programming synthesizers and drum machines "back in the day" can surely recognize the genius of Twitch. From the album's first dissonant clang, it is clear that this is not synth-pop "business as usual", but, rather, the musical equivalent of tossing a misbehaving desktop computer from the roof of a five-story building.
For synth enthusiasts, it was the embodiment of every hair-pulling moment of absolute frustration spent trying to get two pieces of very expensive musical hardware to acknowledge each other's existence, much less communicate with one another to create something approximating music.
In that sense, Twitch was a declaration of liberation, of freedom gained from a seemingly oppressive dictator.
Jourgensen, himself, had gained his own freedom from the perceived meddling of Arista Records and all associated with it. His jubilant "fresh-out-of-fucks" approach is put to best use in the sprawling twelve-minute meltdown that is "Where You At Now/Crash And Burn/Twitch (Part II)", which starts with a pummeling Keith LeBlanc drum machine sequence and hypnotically devolves into a sonic war zone of apocalyptic proportions.
Of course, the album's true genius lies in its ability to lure us gradually from the song-based synth-pop of With Sympathy into the uncharted waters of Twitch with songs like "Just Like You", "All Day" and "We Believe", which picked up where the post-Arista "Everyday Is Halloween" left off.
"The Angel" and "Over The Shoulder" begin to turn the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure on its ear, with Jourgensen and Sherwood now unleashing their musical Frankenstein of found-sound dialogue and other samples layered atop propulsive rhythms.
Even thirty years later, the album continues to reveal new layers of mischievous genius and remains the starting point for any journey into the world of aggro/industrial dance music.
Best tracks: All Day, We Believe, My Possession