If you’re done with Ministry, I can’t really blame you.
Ministry hasn’t been innovative, or trailblazing, or even particularly interesting since at best the early 2000s (and there are plenty of people who would shove that date backward a full decade). Their last couple albums, Relapse and From Beer to Eternity, were complete messes, the former a thrashing attempt at the “glories” of the mid-2000s’ anti-Bush efforts and the latter an honest-to-goodness attempt at experimentation that bordered on completely unlistenable. One couldn’t fault Al Jourgensen’s energy, nor the motivation of trying to make the best record possible for late bandmate and friend Mike Scaccia, but the execution just hasn’t been there. It’s impossible to listen to these albums without wanting to switch them out for the classic industrial metal of The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste or Psalm 69 by the time the third or fourth track rolls around.
So many misfires — none of the above even goes into the humorless poor taste of the last Revolting Cocks record, nor the soulless (though admittedly fast and loud) mechanics of 2016’s Surgical Meth Machine side venture — would be more than enough ammunition in the decision to put Ministry aside for good, though Jourgensen didn’t help matters with AmeriKKKant‘s pre-release promotional cycle. A song called “Antifa” was first, which absolutely is in line with Jourgensen’s politics given that he’s always more fired up (not to mention prolific) when a Republican is president and has never exactly been shy about love for justified violence. The problem is that his way of expressing his support is in lyrics like “Lots of little snowflakes / Never want to admit / Terrified of the red and black flag / Antifa’s the shit.” Really, “Antifa’s the shit”! That’s an actual lyric! The music grinds and rages well enough, and it’s sonically no worse than the deep cuts from the G.W. Bush days, but you really have to make a point to not listen to the words.
A similar fate befalls “Wargasm”, maybe the billionth song to express the hyper-masculine love of guns and war in terms of sexual satisfaction, and maybe the least subtle. And then there’s the title and album cover, which together come off like a hyper-left political meme that Jourgensen saw on Facebook. Whether or not you think his heart’s in the right place, it’s weirdly embarrassing.
Again, we saw all of the above before the album was ever released. There’s a twist: most of the material still hidden on the album is significantly better than “Wargasm” and “Antifa”. After a brief intro called “I Know Words” (there are Trump samples all over this album), we get “Twilight Zone”, which is by far the best song that Ministry has released in at least a decade. The themes are familiar, but by combining the slow stomp of Psalm 69‘s “Scarecrow” with a harmonica lick lifted wholesale from the title track of Filth Pig, Jourgensen put together a song with a tight groove and some actual forward momentum, and then let it last for a full eight minutes. “We’re in the twilight zone” might not be a particularly profound lyric to build a song around, but the words aren’t nearly as cringe-worthy as those in the faster, thrashier pre-release material. “Twilight Zone” itself is reason enough to see a flicker of hope in Ministry’s future.
The rest of the album never quite hits the heights of “Twilight Zone”, nor the lows of “Antifa” and “Wargasm”. “Victims of a Clown” is another slower groove not all that unlike “Twilight Zone”, though it does climax at the end with 30 seconds of thrash. “We’re Tired of It” is speed-metal along the lines of the Surgical Meth Machine stuff, and “Game Over” is a stopping ‘n’ starting exercise reminiscent of Filth Pig‘s “Reload”. Closer “AmeriKKKa” rounds out the album with one more eight-minute dirge, this one more resigned than determined.
Despite the long runtime of some of its tracks, AmeriKKKant is actually a fairly short album, with only nine tracks, two of which are intro-type filler (why Jourgensen keeps continuing the “TV” series of songs if he’s going to relegate them to sub-one-minute filler tracks is beyond me), and this works to its advantage. It’s easy to listen to front-to-back, and it’s varied enough in its moods to keep from getting boring, even if parts of it are eye-rolling awful.
Al Jourgensen is almost 60 years old, and it’s clear that his trailblazing days are likely over. The best we can likely hope for from him going forward are albums that sound and feel like Ministry albums rather than a limp imitation of what Ministry used to be. That is to say: AmeriKKKant is not a great album, and objectively, it’s hard even to call it a good one. That said, it feels like Ministry, and it honest-to-god soars at times. For today, and especially if you’re in a particular mood to rage at the current presidential administration, that seems like enough.