Ministry – Moral Hygiene


Ministry are one of the most influential bands of the last three decades on heavy music and experienced major commercial success in the 1990s as Lollapalooza darlings and industrial metal pioneers. Yet fans of Ministry learn to treat each new album as if it will be the last. Al Jourgensen hates touring and talks as if he’s finished with music. It’s a miracle he’s still alive with the amount of heroin pumped through his veins over the years, but a succession of useless American presidents and the rise and fall of neo-conservatism reinvigorated the band’s vicious satire and sense of purpose in the post-Iraq War era. 2007’s The Last Sucker and 2013’s From Beer to Eternity were supposed to be the swansongs for Jourgensen to bow out for a comfortable retirement on his ranch. Instead, we now have album number fifteen to feast on, and it’s a strong effort with much to enjoy and plenty of references to the classic LPs in Ministry’s back catalogue.

Kerrang! magazine once said that Ministry’s songs contain more samples than a carpet warehouse, and that observation from 2000 is still pertinent on Moral Hygiene. Opener, ‘Alert Level’, is quintessential Ministry with its hysterical manner of incorporating overlapping rhetoric from the public figures of today, including Greta Thunberg. The latter shares the band’s belief that all politicians are inept and incapable of integrity – the only difference is that Ministry use a thumping bass groove and ringing fifth chords to communicate their message rather than protest outside parliaments across the world. This one sounds like an industrial remix of Venom with Jourgensen’s aggressive throat slurs transporting you to the archetypal party at the end of the world. You might even call it ‘N.W.O, Part II’.

Many things characterise Ministry, and one of them is their tendency to load their albums with the best songs on the first side of the record. The trend continues on Moral Hygiene, but the standard of the first five tracks here is superb. ‘Good Trouble’ throbs along on their trademark dual-layered guitars and sampled dialogue over the top of the beats. Nobody does introspective industrial music like Ministry. Fans of their underrated 1999 opus, Dark Side of the Spoon, will feel their pupils expand here, just as those that worship 1989’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste will buzz off the industrial punk-rock of ‘Disinformation’. Lead single, ‘Search and Destroy’ even takes you back to the heavy groove of 90s alternative metal with its slow crunch of guitars and chugging bass lines motoring along like a range rover in cruise control.

The cast of musicians that passed through Ministry’s revolving door over the years reads like a who’s who of industrial and post-punk music, but none come bigger than ex-Dead Kennedy’s frontman, Jello Biafra, who makes an appearance on ‘Sabotage is Sex’. As a collaborator with Jourgensen in Lard, the legendary punk icon brings his wit and humour to a Metallica-inspired rush of chunky guitars and bass-heavy beats like it’s 1992 all over again. You don’t need a lyric booklet to tell you that this one is an attack on police brutality and racial discrimination in American public life.

If the first side is full of anthems and aggro beats, the second is the complete opposite. It’s easy to write off the latter part of Moral Hygiene as a decline in tempo and purpose, but that would be myopic. This is Ministry in their experimental jacket. ‘Believe Me’ comes close to plagiarising ‘The Walk’ by Killing Joke but extricates itself with syncopated metallic chops and an excellent change of key for the brooding chorus. The sampled sitar melodies and refrain of “Things will never be the same again,” on ‘Broken System’ should be enough to build a compelling song, but it never escapes the vibe of a studio outtake. They do much better on ‘We Shall Persist’ with its pensive bass rumble and gothic keyboard choirs in the background. This is the most pessimistic track on Moral Hygiene and traps Jourgensen in a rare spoken word approach. But why do these songs feel like remixes rather than metal bangers?

You’ll ask the same question on ‘Death Toll’ but will soon feel your hips swaying to the surprise acid house bass. For a minute you’re losing your mind to Primal Scream’s Screamadelica record before you remember that this is an industrial metal LP. In case you need a reminder, Jourgensen ramps things up again with the self-referential thrash chaos of ‘Tv Song #6’. It’s the perfect way to throw in as many samples and extreme metal rhythms as possible and manages to reference their classic ‘Thieves’ riff with a flurry of electronic grindcore. You’re not sure what just hit you when it’s all over, but you want more.

Al Jourgensen has a clear and defined sound for Ministry, and he does little to tinker with the formula here. Yet Moral Hygiene pulsates with energy and vigour. It draws on the past and looks to the future, often with disdain. This is a vicious record that bares the teeth of a black comedy and the soul of a concerned misanthrope.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 01/10/2021

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Alert Level, Sabotage is Sex, Search and Destroy

Suggested Further Listening: Lard – 70s Rock Must Die (2000), Killing Joke – Pandemonium (1994), Null Cell – Eternally Ill (2021)