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Ministry Sphinctour

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, April 17, 2002 @ 4:44 PM


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Desperation, irritability and the availability of mind-altering substances. My station in life is such that I’ve started drinking a 4-0 every day before I go to my shift at Mc Donald’s. It just seems to even me out. The nappier the malt, the better it tastes --St. Ides, Mickeys, Colt 45 -- they all seem to mix in my blood and take the edge off my pain. You could say I’m addicted. You could also say I’m not upwardly mobile. You could even make the claim that I can’t seem to get over the fact that I used to own a pair of parachute pants. Laugh all you want to, pal, I don’t care -- you know that if somebody were to shake your tree hard enough there’d probably be all kinds of weird fruit from the past falling on your dented, metal-laden head. As we all know, plenty of bizarre fruit was grown and cultivated through a lot of weirdness stemming from actions and decisions that were made during the ‘80s. To this day, you may even still think about some of them from time to time when you put that nightly beer to your lips… Al Jourgensen probably does.

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Ministry’s past is well chronicled, and Al’s drug addiction and generally red-raw demeanor, which is layered with numerous textures of irritation, could have something to do with the fact that in the early ‘80s he once toured with Culture Club AND Depeche Mode -- c’mon, you know who those bands are even if you wish you didn’t -- that in itself might be enough to damage the psyche of even the most stable individuals. This band’s giddy, dance pop was over though once Paul Barker signed on. After that, Ministry became an amalgam of industrial speed metal anarchy. Even if their innovation hasn’t translated into a vast number of record sales, their influence on such bands as NIN and Static X is impossible to ignore. Their current live album, Sphinctour, is a collection of eleven songs taken from the Filth Pig tour in 1996. Of course, this means you won’t find any songs from their last effort, 1999’s Dark Side of the Spoon. Of the tunes included here, five are on ‘92s Psalm 69, one comes from A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and yet another five were part of the Filth Pig LP.

The band has chosen to include individual selections recorded at various locations rather than provide an entire concert recorded in just a single place. Given that the Filth Pig tour was so lengthy and the vast amount of material this must have produced, you’d figure that it would be difficult for Ministry to put out a substandard disc here. The trick though, isn’t so much in finding decent selections, as much as it is in capturing the intensity of their live show. “Psalm 69” begins the festivities with its chaotic heresy and the mechanical repetition of “sixty-nine, sixty-nine.” It definitely sets the tone of destruction through musical aggression. Of the older songs in this collection, “N.W.O,” “Thieves” and “Just One Fix” are classic Ministry lightning bolts complete with furious drums and barking vocals that make “Scarecrow” seem like a power ballad in comparison. The words uttered by Jourgensen are always delivered with such purpose that even when the lyrics are indiscernible, the message is apparent. Even if the band did not include “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” on this effort, the ones that are here are still satisfying.

“Reload,” recorded live in my beloved ‘hood of Albuquerque, finds Jourgenson proclaiming “Inside a world full of shit, you’re still an asshole to me.” Go ahead, feel free to use the line in your next rant. Anyway, Filth Pig’s theme of alienation and disaffection is well represented by the songs – “Lava,” “Crumbs” and the title track. The low point being the eight-minute drone entitled “The Fall,” which is just too long of a song built on too weak of a premise to go on for that amount of time. Mostly, these five tracks are surprisingly listenable given the amount of criticism Filth Pig generated at the time. Basically, when it was released, the album’s biggest crime was that it wasn’t as instantly listenable as Psalm 69. In truth, the songs probably aren’t as good -- but that doesn’t mean that Ministry doesn’t do what they do better than all the others out there who have chosen to try to emmulate their sound.

Seeing Ministry live is as exceptionally loud and dark of an experience as you are likely to come across this side of death metal. Al Jourgensen is truly an individual who doesn’t give the appearance of someone playing the role of tormented rock star -- he seems to be the genuine article. With a band whose live performance isn’t that extraordinary, making a live album is no big deal because it doesn’t take much to achieve the mediocre standards that they’ve set forth. Ministry, on the other hand, has a legacy of brutalizing its audiences with multifaceted sound that has often been innovative, has often been criticized, but that has always -- always been forceful. While nothing can replace being at an actual show, Sphinctour is a disc that you could at least put in your stereo with a 40 in hand and beat the hell out of yourself slamming into the thin plaster walls of your home. So, given that, it shouldn’t come as any surprise the next time you come into McDonald’s and see me battered with the violet imprints of self-abuse appearing on my skin and the aroma of Olde English dominating my breath -- no need for conjecture, you’ll know what happened.


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