Rio Grande Blood
posted on 4/2006 By:
It’s sadly appropriate that it was on 1999's heroin themed titled Dark Side of the Spoon when Ministry hit their rock bottom. Clever title aside, Ministry ended the decade with an inconsistent and lackluster effort that came on the heels of Filth Pig, a solid album but unquestionably a letdown after the behemoth Psalm 69, and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste before that. But it’s a well documented irony that what Al Jourgensen despises as calamitous for our country is incredibly productive for his career. At the height of the band’s popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, it was George Bush that was the target of Jourgensen’s venom on “N.W.O”. The Clinton era was less inspirational and productive for the band, but a few years ago something stoked the fires in Grandpa Jourgensen’s creative belly. Maybe it was rage at the clusterfuck our President has led us into, maybe it was I’ll-show-you consternation after the split with longtime collaborator Paul Barker, or maybe just a renewed focus and dedication to reclaim his vacated industrial throne, but a few years ago Al Jourgensen woke the fuck up. And Ministry has been on the rise ever since. It started with ‘03s Animositisomina, which kept with the band’s recent slower, roaring style, but had a renewed sharpness and voracity. The following year Buck Satan refocused his sights on the first family on the shamelessly Bush-maligning Houses of the Molé (and yet another great title). Both albums were marked improvements, but neither of them touch Rio Grande Blood.
This is, quite easily, Ministry’s best effort since Psalm 69, released fourteen years ago. This is the fastest, heaviest, angriest, and Ministry-est the band has sounded in years. More satisfying than Al’s renewed hate for the President (I can hate Bush myself, for free) on Molé was the regression back to the uptempo industrial pummeling that defined the band’s best work. Still, that album, like the one before, suffered from consistency issues. There were great songs, but several average ones too, and one or two even less than that. But the good stuff was enough to keep Ministry fans happy with what they got. Revisiting the album after soaking in Rio Grande Blood makes Houses of the Molé look like a warm up. Sure, his single minded assault on Bush is overdone and somewhat gimmicky, even if it is warranted, but Jourgnesen’s fire bombing, consuming rage fuels the album with a seditious propulsion that was long thought dead.
Opening tracks have always been huge for Ministry (“Stigmata”, "Thieves", "N.W.O.", "No W") and the title track of Rio Grande Blood follows suit. Joining Al this time around are Tommy Victor (Prong) on guitar, Paul Raven (Killing Joke and the hugely underrated industrial supergroup Murder Inc.) on bass, and Mark Baker on drums. After the requisite Bush sample filled intro the band tears into a round of white knuckle, hyper speed industrial metal, thick with prominent percussive backbone and machine gun riffing, and Hypo Luxa roaring over it all like a rabid field general. Al himself maintains his classic form, barking out unrelenting rebellion through a clever mixture vehement rage and sardonic smirk. What’s different about this time around though, is that Ministry manages to maintain that high level of energy and quality most of the way through the album. The second track “Señor Peligro" alternates between mid tempo bull horn swagger and uptempo thrashing, but doesn’t lose a step of intensity from the opener. "Fear (Is Big Business)" takes a similar approach, opening with slow, powerfully looming riffs through the verse, in a very Filth Pig-like fashion. But again, before long the band tears into a bruising, breakneck sprint that’s maintained most of the track. Although the themes and style of the album remain fairly consistent, Jourgensen does more than enough to prevent you from feeling like you’re getting a steady diet of rearrangements of a single Psalm 69 leftover. It IS a well worn modus operandi, but that’s a very good thing in this case, and Rio Grande Blood bulges with enough riffs and creative programming to keep it a fresh, if familiar sound.
It doesn’t all work though. There are a few tracks that are nowhere near as convincing. "Gangreen", which features lengthy Drill Sergeant-style abuse from Sgt. Major, recalls the cop ranting on "Hey Asshole" from Jourgenson’s 1000 Homo DJ’s days, but comes off as tedious. "Lieslieslies" is a midtempo number that feels simplistic and obvious, and the repetitive chorus doesn’t help. But on balance, this album is much more consistent than recent efforts. To give you an idea, the "The Great Satan" from Rantology, last year’s remix/greatest hits album, is very much a middle of the pack song on this set. It’s a solid song, but many are better and a couple are less impressive. Also worth mentioning are guest appearances by frequent co-conspirator Jello Biafra on “Ass Clown” and vocalist Liz Constantine on album closer “Khyber Pass”.
As a public service announcement to our younger or industrial-recalcitrant readers: If you’re even the least bit interested in industrial metal and your collection doesn’t include Ministry’s genre topping trilogy of The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and Psalm 69, you should take your ass to your local record store double quick. Rio Grande Blood is very good, but it’s still fourth in line. But after all these years, that’s no small victory. Ministry fans will be on cloud nine after hearing this one, and drooling about the summer tour with Jourgensen’s Revolting Cocks. Buy the album and see the tour. And trust me on this one--ear plugs are recommended.
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