Ministry – HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES


Every Ministry album holds out the promise of being the last one before Al Jourgensen changes his mind, yet this time it seems the end is in sight for the industrial metal pioneers. A recent interview with Loudwire in February 2024 saw Al confirm that HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES will be the penultimate release before they record one last LP and bow out. In truth, the band’s break up has been on the cards ever since 1995’s Filth Pig tanked on the charts, and the heroin addictions afflicting the group members dried up their creative juices. A surprise return to form in 2021 with Moral Hygiene showed the world that Ministry still had a purpose, and album number sixteen does a good job of continuing this trajectory late in their career. It might sound stuck in 1992, but this record has many charms.

Opener, ‘B.D.E.’ starts with the band’s trademark mix of TV samples and crunchy guitar riffing with Al’s salacious voice snarling through the speakers like a morbid old man. Fortunately, Ministry have always understood how to write a succession of metal riffs in the same song since 1992’s Psalm 69. In Al’s sights, are the pathetic incel propagators that have done much over the last decade to promote a ridiculous male right to sex with women through a mixture of reactionary politics and self-pity.  This form of secular terrorism born of out virginity could not be more apt as a metaphor for the tragic times in which we live.

Having survived the dark junkie years, Ministry’s politics are on the right side of history (from a Whig point-of-view), although you could say this has been the case since 1992’s classic ‘N.W.O.’ single. This record could do with more of the sinister synth-bass loops that used to titillate the imagination on earlier albums. ‘Goddamn White Trash’ is the first sign of a hook from 1986. If we take the founding fathers of industrial metal, we can see that Ministry are a cyber-thrash band and Godflesh are a proto post-metal act. Indeed, Ministry’s lyrical cynicism served them well in the 1990s and in Al’s post-junkie era when the hubristic neo-conservative politics of George W. Bush saved his career and gave him a purpose again. It explains why he can write something like ‘Aryan Embarrassment’. This is a doom-posturing affair with ringing power chords and introspective rhythms reminiscent of 1998’s Dark Side of the Spoon. You wonder if any other metal artist apart from Lamb of God have benefited more from the absurdity of the Donald Trump era, even if this feels like cynical spectator politics rather than protest music.

The song titles are often a good indicator of the themes on this record. ‘Just Stop Oil’ presents the listener with rapid alt-picking riff in a two-beat groove. Al’s unimaginative yelling has acquired a modicum of tuneful melody over the years. The surf rock solo at 01:25 adds charm to this song. As admirable as their efforts may be, you cannot say that 3Teeth are anywhere near the standard of a motivated Ministry fighting from a comfortable status quo. You can doff your cap to the band’s determination to avoid background riffing and to make the metallic element the main weapon of the songs, even if this record sounds like it heard no new music since the George Bush era. ‘New Religion’ pulsates in confrontational Slayer mode but with the twist of Public Enemy’s sample approach. ‘TV Song 1/6 Edition’ is your typical head-banging thrash with double-timing beats, but it’s utterly predictable and easy to forget.

A study of the early Skinny Puppy and Ministry discographies reveals a preponderance of original ideas and inept songwriting ability. The latter corrected this in the 1990s and started to create choruses and memorable verses built around vocal lines, but Al never reached the standard of Trent Reznor. That’s what makes penultimate track, ‘Cult of Suffering’, such a triumph. Imagine Ministry as a pop band like the B52s playing industrial rock – it’s a pleasure to shake one’s hips to this beat. Listen to the soul in those gospel vocals in the background. This is how you write a catchy tune with pithy lyrics and a soulful organ melody. Here, Al dispenses with the gap-filling TV samples and concentrates on writing a subversive pop song like Faith No More at their best – and it works.

The biggest weakness of this album is its reluctance to see beyond the Lollapalooza era, yet it might also be its saving grace. Do you want one of the most important and influential bands of the last thirty-five years to spoil their legacy when they can churn out semi-respectable records built on a winning formula?

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 01/03/2024

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: B.D.E., New Religion, Cult of Suffering

Suggested Further Listening: Evil Brain Taste – Number Two (2023), Detraktor – Full Body Stomp (2022), Jaaw – Supercluster (2023)