Relapseposted on 4/2012 By:
It was a pretty shitty thing when Al Jourgensen announced that he would be disbanding Ministry, but they certainly went out swinging: 2007’s The Last Sucker perfectly capped off the band’s vitriolic trio of George W. Bush-inspired albums; 2008’s Cover Up provided a nice encore and platform for Uncle Al to play some of his favorite songs with some of his favorite people; and their “C-U-LaTour” with the mighty Meshuggah delivered enough sonic power to ensure that people would never forget the name or the music of Ministry. But fans barely had a chance to miss them before a couple of singles, remix albums, and Undercover, the ill-advised sequel to Cover-Up, made their way into circulation. For a guy who claimed to be responsible for six other bands, Al sure was spending a lot of time on the one he just put to rest. It looked like he had finally moved on when his industrial-country project Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters dropped their debut album, but even that had barely settled in when news broke of Ministry reforming for a new album and tour. Welcome to Jourgensen’s latest Relapse.
Given the political leanings of the band’s last three albums and the fact that the country is still a bit in the shitter, it should come as no surprise that about half the album deals with sociopolitical issues. There are also ruminations on drug addiction/abuse, record company greed, and the death of the FBI’s most wanted man. That being said, Jourgensen is much more effective when raging against something than when he is trying to rally for something. It's the ‘rah rah’ stuff that tends to bring this album down, but the rest of the Relapse is good enough that you might be able to ignore it.
Opener “Ghouldiggers” begins with a Jourgensen rant about how record execs prefer dead musicians over live ones for financial gain. It goes on a bit long, but you can’t disagree with the guy. The track itself is pure Ministry piss and vinegar. One of the greatest lines on the album comes during a subsequent spoken interlude, as Jourgensen asks, “What is their major malfunction?” – which leads to an echo of “function.” It’s a little thing, yes, but it's particularly pointed in today’s DIY age, wherein it is easier than ever for bands to directly handle their own business. The reality is major record labels don’t care about their artists unless they’re out there making them money, and most of them do that best when they’re dead. The circle of life is the circle of death.
On the surface, “Double Tap” celebrates the killing of one Osama Bin Laden. It’s a ferocious audio assault complete with sitars for a little Middle Eastern flavor, but the sentiment feels a bit out of character. Hopefully, I’m just over-thinking here, because the only argument that can be made against Operation: Geronimo is that it was falsified to hide that fact that Bin Laden had been dead for years, and even that just sounds like a bunch of conspiracy theorist mumbo-jumbo.
But restating an earlier point, Jourgensen’s venom is less lethal when he tries to get anthemic. This first becomes apparent during the S.O.D. cover “United Forces,” which like so many Ministry covers, comes off as mechanical and devoid of any raw emotion that may have existed in the original. I could get into that more, but instead, I will move on to Al’s take on the Occupy movement, “99 Percenters.” The song overall isn’t all that bad, but the excruciatingly bad chorus (“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 99 percenters”) is enough to sour the entire thing. I understand they made a video for this, too. Guess you can’t accuse him of not capitalizing on the times – too bad the major movement has all but faded away at this point. To be fair, “Get Up, Get Out and Vote” is pretty good, despite the cheesy name. It’s an urgent call to arms to exercise one of our most important rights and (at least attempt to) incite change. But in the world of Ministry, the rant will always come out on top, and “Kleptocracy,” a giant finger to the political system that is horribly failing us all, trumps these others.
What would a Ministry album be without a few nods to drugs? They seem to have a different tone this time around, though, like the sad state of the world is driving the narrator (Al himself?) into various drug-fueled states. “Freefall” has got the most bite among them, as the band creates an overall feeling of spiraling out of control. “Relapse” comes off more sonically restrained, yet creates a strong sense of cynical frustration and resignation, making it perhaps the most autobiographical track here. The prospect of end-of-days collides with a society in decline to drive our hero into a drug-fueled haze just to cope. On the flip-side is the “Weekend Warrior,” who embraces a life of drugs and rage and just wants to get high and fight. This one is more like a spoken-word piece, delivered by guest vocalist Samuel D’Ambruoso. He’s got something of a punk/hardcore inflection to his voice which gives the delivery good attitude but doesn’t mesh with the music too well.
Even if it’s just for one album (as Al has stated), it’s great to have Ministry back in action again. Given the lyrical content, it’s possible that the tracks of Relapse would have worked better as a themed EP or two, but it works well as a package, especially considering that the idea of a relapse applies to both drugs and to the sociopolitical landscape (from an “only the names have changed” perspective). If you’re not into musical activism, there is enough here to turn you off; if you’re just into Ministry’s unique sonic assault, it’s all on display here and with plenty of variation. Either way, it’s fun to take a trip and put Relapse in your ears.
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