Ministry - 'Moral Hygiene' Album Review
1. Alert Level
2. Good Trouble
3. Sabotage Is Sex
5. Search And destroy
6. Believe Me
7. Broken System
8. We Shall Resist
9. Death Toll
10. TV Song #6 (Right Around The Corner Mix)
You open your eyes, and all you see is desolation; the sky above you is heavy with smoke and ash which falls like grey snow upon the twisted remains of buildings that lay tumbled across the apocalyptic vista in front of you, their hulking carcasses crumbling and burning as they fester in their silent death-throes. You see what remains of the human civilisation; destitute, pale-skinned once-humans, shuffling aimlessly around the rubble-strewn wasteland, creating clouds of ash in their wake while they search for edible matter among the ruins. A vicious scuffle breaks out when one of them finds something of value, and you see the victor put in its place by a stronger one, who grabs the item from its cowering hands and skulks away to sit on its own to examine the object, yelling wordlessly at others that dare to get close. You hear an odd noise coming from a nearby building and are amazed to see a TV in the ruined window-display of a shop that's still working, and although its picture is flickering and breaking-up, it still displays a clear image when the interference clears for short moments. You see a heavily tattooed, dreadlocked man with a bandanna - he's wearing round-lensed shades and has a leathery face that's covered in piercings, and he's flipping a middle finger at the camera and laughing maniacally in an eternal loop which, once heard, you never forget the sound of.
Welcome to the world of Ministry, where the world is decidedly not ok and Al Jorgensen, Proto-Industrial Metal pioneer, surveys the absurdities of contemporary planet earth and it's increasingly fractious political landscape from the comfort of his throne. He's been been subjecting the world to acts of sonic terrorism for three decades and there's no sign of him stopping or slowing down any time soon, having tasked himself with the arduous moral responsibility of weaving a tapestry of noise that depicts a portentous vision of a grim and dark future for the world to reflect upon. He’s here with his latest slice of grim-dark with Ministry’s latest long player, ‘Moral Hygiene’ and, just in case you were wondering, it’s not particularly pretty.
What it is, though, is brutally heavy - and this should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with the earlier works of Ministry or Jourgensen’s many side projects. "How concerned are you?", a woman’s voice asks in sustained repetition when first track ‘Alert Level’ starts playing, and it sets a precedent for the coming onslaught of dark prophecies with a deep bass-guitar pulse before a thundering clatter of drums settles into walking-pace beat. It’s joined by a driving bassline and fuzzbox guitars that intermittently break into chugging riffage, and I detect an almost Rob Zombie-ish vibe to it until Jourgensen’s distinctive vocals join the fray, yelling "Let’s get ready to die" as the stomping beat pounds along, and “There’s nobody to blame but ourselves” before the song heads into a section that's peppered with audio samples that match the less-than-cheery tone of it all perfectly. Weighing in at a shade over six minutes, it’s a beast of a opening track that feels like a fitting way to kick things off, and it ends on a spooky-sounding theremin melody that's straight out of 1950's science fiction movie, which melds into a crescendo of discordant guitar fuzz as the next track ‘Good Trouble’ detonates out of your speakers. There's no pause for breath though; it heads unyieldingly into a thrashy, fast-paced beat with chugging guitars, threatening to be a mosh-pit favourite before slowing down significantly and settling into its first verse, which sees Al’s vocals accompanied by shimmering chorus guitars and intermittent blasts of caustic guitar fuzz. “The world is a mess”, he shouts before the track moves through a section of clips and samples of crowds shouting “fuck the police” before heading back to the noisier sections that preceeded it. Although it’s by all intents and purposes a bruiser of a track, it feels a little lacking in substance in comparison to the sensational opener.
It's pleasing then, when the next track ‘Sabotage Is Sex’ kicks right off into a dirty great crunchy riff and there’s a nice surprise waiting in the wings when the one and only Jello Biafra (of Dead Kennedys fame) joins the glorious racket in his own inimitable vocalistic style. This one really rattles along, its lyrics centering on the racial incidents that have been plaguing the US in recent times, with Jello shouting “it’s open season on the oppressed”. There’s a strong hook in it when he’s joined by gang vocals as they shout the track’s title, and the whole thing has a chaotic and punky feeling to it that makes it genuinely thrilling to listen to, and it's elevated to epic status as choral chants and haunting operatic vocals make its final moments absolutely epic and earmark it as one of the stronger songs on the album. Never being one to mince words, ‘Disinformation’ sees Jourgensen setting his sights on the phenomenon of purposefully falsified news and Trump’s attacks on legitimate journalism. Indeed, the tangerine one himself can be heard throughout it with his infamous ‘fake news’ soundbite, which comes augmented by a distorted, driving bassline that explodes into a frenzy of riffage and squealing guitars. It’s the first track on the album that feels typically Ministry-ish in its Industrial Metal stylings - and this is most certainly a good thing as it's electronic elements are layered in such a way that they pop across the synapses, blending beautifully with the live elements. Jourgensen’s spoken-word vocals slide in between the layers of noise, drawling “The truth is ugly and the world is unstable / the situation never turns out well...” before running at breakneck pace into a wall of pure noise and galloping, thundering drums. The track never grows stale, jumping through a variety of various sections but retaining cohesiveness as it does so, and we’re treated to a killer guitar solo at the three-quarters way mark that acts as the icing on the very, very noisy cake.
I was as surprised when I discovered that ‘Search And Destroy’, the next track on the album, is a Stooges cover as it doesn’t sound remotely at all like the original… Which I suppose is kinda cool, yes? Unlike the original, it strikes-off at a languid, slow pace with electric drums and synths, but doesn’t do anything to tone down the heaviness, with face-meltingly heavy guitars and a beast of a solo leading into Al’s vocals, which are surprisingly more melodic that we’re used to hearing. It doesn’t pull any surprising twists however, but it’s a great track that brings a sense of melodic balance to things. The melodic stylings continue onto the next track ‘Believe Me’, which sets off at a faster pace that’s driven forwards by a sliding bass riff and strident guitars. It’s a scathing attack on ex-president Trump and his acolytes, following ‘The president of the United States’ audio clips with corresponding ‘stone cold crooked’ and ‘corrupt and fake (lies, lies, lies, lies)’ ones, which Jourgensen compounds with his own lyrical attacks; “They put their trust in you / then you just left them hollow / they don’t know what they’re supposed to do / I have disgust for you / And those who blindly follow / and now my tank is empty too”. Nice. Acoustic guitars (on a Ministry album… Really?) briefly join the fray for a lighter sounding section, only to be pulled apart by staccato guitar stabs and more deliciously unsubtle soundbites and samples, and it’s another track that throws in a good deal of variation which prevents it from growing stale during its almost-six-minute running time.
Things are about to take a decidedly Indian twist, as ‘Broken System’ weaves and winds into the room on the mystical sound of the sitar, played by guest musician Flash and accompanying Indian percussionists, marking a brief departure from raucous guitars and drums. “Life will never be the same”, a woman’s voice echoes in the opening of the track, which pulls its focus on the worrying and now seemingly irreversible climate change events that are happening across the globe. There’s little time to get used to the dreamy ambience of the intro - the sitar is soon pushed to the back as a bluesy-sounding guitar comes to the fore accompanied by a beat that harks back to something from Psalm 69. Jourgensen’s vocals are hidden beneath a veil of distortion, and he urges listeners to take action; “we need to raise our voices / or sit silent in hell”. It’s one of the more powerful messages on the album, and it really gets its point across with its genius use of portentous samples and warnings. The title of the next track ‘We Shall Resist’ offers the hope of something a little more upbeat, but then it pummels the ears with sub-bass, an electric beat and something that sounds altogether more insidious. In an unusual twist, Jougensen’s vocals are free of vocal effects and are brought further forward in the mix, and he half-whispers, half-sings “And at the apex of the all seeing eye surveying the landscape / And the damage that’s done and the destruction of all our lives / We must confront this enemy”, making it another track that’s urging its listeners to rise up and protest against right-wing and corrupt governments that are ruining lives and enlarging the gap between the rich and poor.
The penultimate track ‘Death Toll’ centres on the unavoidable subject of the Covid-19 global pandemic, which isn’t really a surprise as it’s been one of the most widely reported news subjects the world has ever seen. Jourgensen has some fun with this one, poking fun at the ‘covidiots’; the anti-vaxxers and religious nutjobs that encouraged their followers to attend packed-out sermons, spreading the obvious mistruth that ‘god’ would protect people from the virus when it couldn’t have been further from the truth. It’s a track that’s got an almost Hip-Hop feel to it, and is composed entirely of samples and a humorously-voiced rising death toll as it grooves towards its conclusion. Everything is then flung against the wall, smashing into a million fragments as ‘TV song #6 (Right Around The Corner Mix)’ crashes into a clattering frenzy of blast-beats, samples, soundbites and machine-gun riffage. It’s a truly chaotic track that contains no discernible lyrics other than Al shouting “right around the corner” repetitively as a stuttering dervish of electronic buzzes, syncopated jitters and noise reaches critical mass before suddenly collapsing in on itself, leaving an eerie silence. It feels like a fitting end to an album that attempts to tackle a lot of pressing themes and questions in a world that feels like it’s getting crazier by the minute.
Once you’ve had a chance to listen to ‘Moral Hygiene’ a few times and taken a moment to digest its unashamedly heavy and blunt approach to tackling subjects that range from racial inequality, crazy tangerine lunatic political leaders and the climate crisis, it really makes you wonder why there aren’t more bands doing this sort of thing when it feels so important. The majority of the tracks on the album strike their mark like a laser-guided missile, detonating in a fireball of frenzied riffing and venom-laced lyrics, and while there are a couple of tracks that don’t reach the same level of greatness, there’s not a single one that feels like a dud. If I was being super-critical, I’d be tempted to say that a few of them feel a touch on the long side and could benefit from being hacked-back a little, but I would hardly say that that’s a big problem.
Jourgensen has been using Ministry to shape his sardonic wit and scathing political viewpoints into focussed blasts of noise for thirty years, but there’s something about this album that makes these blasts of noise feel of vital importance; the sort of stuff that should be getting played at ear-bleeding volume from the rooftops worldwide and shaking the planet to its very core. I sincerely hope that there’s a rabble of youthful artists who get a chance to listen to this, and that it inspires them to shape their own political opinions into similar blasts of angry noise. It’s exactly what the world needs right now.
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Review - Craig Henderson