CLASSIC REVIEW: Ministry – “Psalm 69”

Does everyone have an over-zealous, extremely misinformed, radically religious relative or is it just me? Sometime in the early/mid 90s,  I remember watching MTV with my cousins at my aunt’s house, when suddenly “Jesus Built My Hotrod” came on.  It sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis on street quality cocaine, backed by band of blood thirsty robot henchmen. It just may have been the coolest sound my eleven year old ears had ever heard! About 40 seconds into the song, my aunt comes rushing into the living room screaming as to hear her own voice over the television and she frantically changed the channel. It was horrifying and hilarious at the same time. Picture Porky Pig playing the role of Carrie’s mother.

“That music is of the devil!” she cried as us kids tried hard not to laugh. “Never ever under any circumstances, ever listen to Ministry!” she continued. This brought up two very important questions I asked myself. One being “How does she know so much about this band Ministry if they are so evil?” and the second was of course, “Where can I find this album!”.  A few days later I found and purchased the cassette of Psalm 69.

At the age of eleven, I was no stranger to rock music, or even ‘alternative rock’. The aforementioned cousins of mine were quite a few years older than me and constantly watched music videos. I remember them complaining that Kurt Cobain wasn’t cute. Scott Weiland was too weird to be attractive and Alice In Chains were too depressing. All of these things just made me even more interested in listening to those artists though.  Maybe their  superficial influence was no match for my anti-establishment moral code that was already being developed at even such an early age. Maybe I was just a punk? All I know is, Ministry was scary, aggressive, and a whole lot of fun. I was hooked! Ding a ding dang my danga lang ling long, indeed!

Of course the politically charged subtext of “N.W.O” went right over my head (as well as 99.9% of all the lyrics on the album) but the one-two-punch of that track, immediately followed by “Just One Fix”, it was unlike any band I had ever heard before! It was heavy metal like the bands I was told never listen to by the extremists, but mechanical as if steam-punk machines were building the instruments at the same time playing them!  Teeth rattling bass, vicious screaming, machine guitar riffs, and all of these weird samples from movies or shows. It was like the sound of my brain being pumped up with diesel and lit on fire with a blow torch! At the time, I knew about Nine Inch Nails and other darker new wave bands, but this was my real introduction to what some would call Industrial.

In comparison to other bands of the genre, it’s debatable where one could really call this an industrial album. Ministry’s previous albums are a lot closer to that genre, and Psalm 69 can be seen as a gateway into the third chapter of the career, when they slowly evolved into a speed metal project. In some ways, it can be a gateway album for the listener. If it weren’t for this album, I never would have checked out one of my favorite industrial acts, KMFDM. On the other side of the spectrum, despite not being into heavy metal while growing up, this record certainly warmed me up to the idea of checking out other metal bands such as Slayer. It’s Al Jourgensen’s Revolver, in the way that it acts as a bridge between what was and what they would end up. Despite yet another style change, it also brought in commercial stability. Not only did Psalm 69 reach number on the Heatseekers Chart, but it also broke into the Billboard Top 40 at number 27, and earned them a Grammy nomination.

Recently I picked up the vinyl reissue and have been listening to it quite often again. It still holds up surprising well! The cultural uncertainty of the upcoming Presidential election in the United States, most of the politically charged rants Jourgensen is famous for, are once again eerily relevant again and even plays out as a makeshift soundtrack to those of us who are already tired of hearing media manipulated rhetoric. While it may not be Ministry’s finest album, it’s certainly the best place to start if you are interested in checking them out. It has all of ferocious intensity of their thrash metal output but all of the digital wizardry of their earlier releases (not including the synth-pop debut album With Sympathy though) all in a nice package that stands as the ‘definitive’, and commercially successful Ministry album. If I could go back in time and interview the eleven year old version of myself, I think I would recommend Ministry and Psalm 69 and with that said, is that something anyone could complain about?

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Aaron The Audiophile

Son, brother, uncle, musician. I enjoy music of all genres, shapes and sizes, preferably the good kind.

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