Few bands have a more compelling history than Ministry, who evolved over two decades from a bitchy, new wave synth-pop act into a burnt-out beast of bottom-heavy speed metal. Rock historians, take note: Al Jourgensen, the band's leader and lone mainstay for the duration of its existence, achieved this evolution gradually; such development proves to be the band's most compelling characteristic long after the waning of a listener's needs for outsider dance club angst anthems or blasts of pure pile-driving aggression. Each of Ministry's seminal '80s records and dodgy '90s outings marks a step on the chart of that development, and the band's entire oeuvre remains a fascinating and intriguing whole that comprises more than the sum of its parts. Thus, the fact that Houses of the Molé (another in a long line of Ministry album titles featuring dubious word play) is not merely the first Ministry record to halt the band's ongoing evolution, but also one of the band's mightiest and most consistent records, creates something of a dilemma: does a band known for constant change and boundary-pushing undermine its career when it decides to take a step back and reaffirm its past strengths? It depends on the exact goals of the artist.
In all fairness to Jourgensen, his particular intentions in making the record may have been different this time from his usual approach. Longtime bassist and co-programmer Paul Barker parted ways with the band just months after last year's brilliant return to form, Animositisomina, and Jourgensen may have felt he had something to prove. Sidestepping the regular four-year layoff between albums that developed immediately after Ministry's commercial breakthrough in 1992, Jourgensen put together a new gang of sidemen, including regular touring guitarist Mike Scaccia, and returned to the studio, thankfully building on the momentum generated by Animositisomina's success. While that record reinvigorated the band's thunderous sound with an energy that had been missing for a decade, it still concentrated on expanding the experimentalism of its predecessor and at times suffered from belabored production. Houses of the Molé, in contrast, is rougher, faster, and leaner; it demonstrates Ministry in political punk mode, and serves as their most focused and topically accessible venture since breaking through with Psalm 69 over a decade ago. Jourgensen ironically seems to have proven his point -- that he is Ministry -- by releasing the first record of his career that sounds like he's actually not trying to prove anything musically. Instead, he returns to blueprints that have worked well for him in the past. The record seems quite proud of its redundancy, especially when compared to Psalm 69, which it constantly references in both title ("No W" is an anagram of "N.W.O."; a hidden remix of the same track is called "Psalm 23") and song ("WTV" is the fourth recording yet of "TV Song"; the slower, sample-heavy intro to "Waiting" is reminiscent of Psalm 69's title track).
Lyrically, however, the record has an obvious agenda. Jourgensen has always been outspoken against conservatism and supportive of democracy -- his diatribe against Urban Outfitters for selling a T-shirt that reads "Voting Is For Old People" is one of the higher-profile recent examples -- but on Houses of the Molé, he unleashes on President Bush in such a way that may rank him just behind Michael Moore and Saddam Hussein on the list of those most vocally opposed to Dubya. At times, he channels his aggression with sarcastic mimickry (the chorus of "No W" is a repeated, anguished "Trust Me!"); otherwise, he offers scathing indictments like "Wrong": "What makes you think you've got a god given right / For killing people in a needless fight / You're like a rapist with a target in sight / Democracy". The entire album is enhanced by old-school industrial samples and media bits, such as the edited quote of Bush announcing, "Tonight I have a message for the people of Iraq: Go home and die." Further snippets of Bush denouncing evil, praising America, and telling kids to listen to their parents are peppered throughout the incessant sonic assault. Even less specific lyrical approaches (such as "WKYJ" or "Worthless", which finally closes the distance between Ministry and Killing Joke) can be understood as making a statement about Americans, or living with the shame of being one under the Bush regime. Jourgensen's singular sense of purpose on the record is admirable, if somewhat frightening in its onslaught. Thankfully, his sense of humor is evident: the titles noticeably all begin with the letter "W", and the CD tray contains a photo of Bush as a "warhead."
Ultimately, Houses of the Molé is an ambitious record in all but one aspect: it fails to continue the forward development that Ministry maintained for so long. Yet, regardless of whether Jourgensen set out to make the record as a way to voice his anger before the upcoming election, or to prove that Ministry could go on without Paul Barker, or to build upon the success of Animositisomina, he appears to have met the goals he set for himself, a far greater accomplishment.