Review: Ministry – Relapse

Uncle Al hasn't changed one bit, and that's just the way we like it.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson




AFM/13th Planet Records


Four years after abdicating the throne of world’s most popular industrial band, Ministry step back into the limelight with Relapse. A serious health scare in 2010, coupled with recent political unrest, inspired Ministry mastermind Al Jourgensen to return to the angry, machine-like, metal tinged fray. As with any big band return, Relapse is being heralded as the greatest achievement in Ministry’s extensive catalog. Is it? Is the record even any good? Do Jourgensen’s political rants seem genuine or lazy? So many questions. Let me try and answer a few.

The first thing to settle is that Relapse is a great record. Loud, fast, angry and relentless. All the elements of Ministry are here and in top form. I’m not sure if I’d stick it in the same class as Land Of Rape And Honey or Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, but Relapse could stand toe to toe with the rest of Ministry’s catalog. Jourgensen isn’t alone with this assault; he’s packing some serious back up. Mike Scaccia and Casey Orr of Rigor Mortis, metal icon Tommy Victor of Prong and Tony Campos of Static X all lend their particular brand of excellence to the Ministry madness.

Relapsekicks off with “Ghouldiggers” a song that announces Ministry’s return in more ways than one. Musically you can’t beat it for an opener. A ripping guitar solo slowly builds as Al Jourgensen does a bit of spoken word before the explosion of power ejaculates in your face like a thousand knives. Once the whole band is in “Ghouldiggers” is a sonic sledgehammer bashing your skull in without mercy. The groovy riff plays against the inhuman drum machines and that battle has always been what Ministry does best. You can bang your head to it, get wasted to it or burn down cities. Whatever you decide, I promise a visceral reaction to the tune.

“Ghouldiggers” also signals the return of Al Jourgensen as enigmatic blowhard.  The tune is all about how much he hates the pretense and pomposity of the music industry.  This is coming from a man who sent a twenty-five minute interview video to the press with a statement that if a journalist asks any of the same questions, Jourgensen will stop the interview right away. The idea that a man could do something so “rock star” arrogant while kicking his album off with a song vilifying the same behavior is the dichotomy that makes Al Jourgensen so interesting.  I don’t know about you but I feel a bit better knowing Uncle Al hasn’t changed over these years.

Outside of the standard Ministry sound, the band reaches back into some punk rock influences to bring Relapse to life. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t suddenly sound like Black Flag but the subtext is there. “Freefall” is a pure punk rock jam in the vein of Discharge or Necros but put through the Ministry filter. Part of what’s always drawn me to Ministry is how Jourgensen can take something as primal as punk rock and make it sound machine like without losing the humanity. “Freefall” is akin to the spirit of punk rock played by the robot from Metropolis.

The biggest surprise on Relapse is the S.O.D. cover “United Forces”.  It takes a set of brass nuggets to cover a song by one of the most beloved thrash super groups of all time, but Ministry just whip them out and swing ‘em. The cover kicks all kinds of serious ass. Once again Al Jourgensen lays his magic over another genre to make it his own. Jourgensen is like a waiter and his musical style the long wooden peppershaker. He steps in, waves that wooden wand over any musical style and his pepper covers the original idea with Jourgensen’s personal spice.

“99 Percenters” is one of my favorite jams on Relapse. Musically this tune has the most in common with Ministry’s sound from Land Of Rape And Honey or Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste. For those who can’t quite define industrial,  play “99 Percenters” for anybody and they’ll get the idea. Part metal, part machine, part human players and part samples, it’s a rich pudding of delights. Lyrically the tune attacks the reaction of the public to the Occupy movement that swept through 2011. Usually musicians try to bring their most learned sack of bullshit to their political songs. Not Jourgensen, he screams about it the way people would in their living rooms, which is really refreshing.

Relapseis pretty much devoid of bad songs. Some tracks are better than others but none of them suck. The only trouble in paradise comes with how people perceive the album. If you like Ministry, you’ll be busting a nut over Relapse. If you don’t like what they do, this won’t help matters. Ministry doesn’t break any new ground with Relapse and they aren’t pushing any musical boundaries.  Personally I don’t think they wanted to and I can respect that but it might make finding new fans difficult, For those of us who dig Ministry or for those who can open up their minds past knee-jerk reactions to the band, Relapse is an invitation by Jourgensen to strap in, staple your eyelids open and take a fucked up ride through the dysfunctional brain of a musical icon.

What else do you need?