The enigma that is Al Jourgensen. A man who does not do things by halves. In a career with more diversions than the M1 junction 13 roadworks, Jourgensen returns here with a Ministry album that seemed unlikely to see the light of day. Not least because 2012’s ‘Relapse’ was, he declared, “absolutely positively the last Ministry album ever”. But he said that after 2007’s ‘The Last Sucker’ as well. And not least (again) because during last year’s tour, he was taken ill with severe dysentery and was camped out at death’s door.
Something in that experience motivated him to hook up with long-time Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia for another crack. Together they hit a rich seem of songwriting. And then fate intervened once more. During a break in the creative process, Scaccia died of a heart attack whilst playing with his other band, Rigor Mortis.
Jourgensen chose to finish the album and release it in Scaccia’s honour and to “turn the songs we had recorded into the best and last Ministry record anyone will ever hear”.
If ‘Beer To Eternity’ really is to be the last Ministry album, there are enough high points to easily stand comparison with the band’s finest moments. But in true Ministry style, there is also enough here to mangle the sturdiest of brain cells, scare to death unsuspecting 1D fans and disorientate the finest sat navs. The dark workings of Al Jourgensen’s mind make me shudder.
Kicking off with the best of the material, album opener, ‘Hail To The Majesty (Peasants)’ has all the hallmarks of Ministry’s patent industrial sound. It sets the tone for the album with its teasing alternating of murderous and scything guitar with eccentric keyboard/vocal passages.
Next up, ‘Punch In The Face’ is an uncomplicated (on the Jourgensen scale at least) industrial assault with twisted and splintered vocal loops, jagged samples and grinding guitar over a furious drumtrack and nagging bass line. Classic stuff.
‘Perma War’ takes things down the rev counter a tad, but up on the power rating. Scaccia’s guitar, after being given the Jourgensen production treatment, layers up like a dark metal black forest gateau. Thick, dense guitar chugs and lead lines intertwine and grow into all embracing, thrilling wall of sound.
That sound was achieved at Jourgensen’s El Paso compound with co-producer Sammy D’Ambruoso, and engineer/keyboard programmer Aaron Havill. Jourgensen wrote all the lyrics and some of the subject material is familiar with side-swipes at the US Republican Party, particularly on ‘Fairly Unbalanced’, which features an array of White House vocal samples delivered against an extreme soundscape of unbelievable tempo and intensity.
Sometimes Jourgensen can almost appear mainstream. ‘Perfect Storm’ is a riveting speed workout in the classic death/thrash genre and features a visceral, high octane lead break that any power metal band would love to get their picks around.
But Jourgensen has never been anything less than unpredictable. ‘The Honor’ has the craziest, mellow bass bumping along under the feedback and vocal loops. At the other extreme, ‘Side Fx include Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV4)’ features a passage where a discordant road-drill of a guitar programme is spliced with looped vocal sections. It makes for challenging, dysfunctional and frankly painful listening.
Then we get soulful crooning and woohoo-ing to accompany Al’s growl over another fractured riff on the entertaining ‘Lessons Unlearned’. Expect the unexpected. Great solo though.
And so it goes. ‘Thanx But No Thanx’ is the dub of UB40’s ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ smashing into the swagger of Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’ where the subject material is a long list of national ills, mistakes and fears. Does that make sense? No. And neither should it. Needless to say, it just about works.
‘From Beer to Eternity’ will not be toured. Instead, Jourgensen will promote the album alongside his biography, ‘Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen’. I don’t envy any biographer trying to contain the extremes of Jourgensen in a mere book. The man is an absolute original, for better or worse. Never an imitation. And that’s exactly what this album should be seen as.
Review by Dave Atkinson
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Until the end of the year, ‘New to GRTR!’ (Sundays 21:00) replays some favourite tracks in this sequence from 2016 with the emphasis on independent artists and labels. This programme was first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on Sunday 4 December. To check out the playlist, click here
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