CD Review

Ministry – “Rio Grande Blood”

By Dan Century

Rio Grande BloodIn 1988 Ministry released The Land of Rape and Honey and won the attention of hardcore and metal fans by mixing heavy guitar riffs with drum machines, distorted vocals and samples from cult movies. Ministry wasn’t the first band to mix drum machines with metal – both the Young Gods and Big Black did it the year before – but The Land of Rape and Honey crossed over and changed everything forever. Metal heads started dating Goth chicks. Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM and White Zombie changed their sound. A new “industrial metal” genre was spawned and bands like Chemlab, Die Krupps, Fear Factory, Godflesh, Klute and Sister Machine Gun came out of nowhere and quickly filled record bins. Big-hair metal dudes like Metallica’s Kirk Hammet praised Ministry in the press. People say Nirvana’s Nevermind killed big-hair metal – maybe so, but Ministry kicked it the down the stairs and broke its hip.

There’s always been one big problem with Ministry for metal heads: as brutal as Ministry is, their guitar riffs and solos were never the most metal. Ministry’s riffs have never been quite as metallic as Slayer, or Overkill, Megadeth, Pantera and classic Metallica. This point was made abundantly clear when KMFDM sampled Slayer’s Reign in Blood for their hit Godlike. When that song came out everybody was like “it’s like Ministry with a better riff.” Al Jourgensen is no slacker, but he’s also no Kerry King.

Another complaint, which comes mostly from “dudes in bands” and metal purists, is that Ministry has no soul or feeling in their music. They claim that Al Jourgensen records a bunch of riffs, loops them in Pro Tools and he’s done. Most Ministry fanatics could care less how Al makes his music: to them sonic brutality is sonic brutality, no matter how it was produced.

Rio Grande Blood changes everything for Ministry. The first smart thing Al Jourgensen did was recruit Tommy Victor, Paul Raven and John Bechdel from Prong, a classic NYC thrash band, and keep Mike Scaccia, who is Ministry’s greatest musical asset. The second smart thing Al did was he made a thrash album: thrash riffs, thrash squeals, thrash solos, thrash bass, and thrash beats – no disco with metal riffs, just real thrash metal goodness. The third smart thing Al did was keep all the stuff that made Ministry famous: wacko drum machines, keyboards, distorted vocals, samples and of course anger and rage. He doesn’t play on the album, but Al has gone as far as steal Slipknot’s drummer, Joey Jordison, for the upcoming Ministry tour. Brilliant! Al Jourgensen has finally completed the transformation he began 18 years ago – Ministry is now a full-blown metal band.

As you might guess by the title and artwork, Rio Grande Blood is a concept album about the Bush administration, the War on Terror and the Iraq War. Do you want to guess whose side Al Jourgensen is on? Here’s a hint: Al won’t be invited to a White House dinner any time soon. Titles like Yellow Cake, Kyber Pass, Palestina, and The Great Satan are references to Iraq and the War on Terror. Ass Clown is about Washington politics, and has a funny sideshow barker intro by Jello Biafra. I think Senor Peligro is about illegal immigration, but I can’t tell what Al is singing. I can never tell what Al is signing – how about a lyrics sheet Al?

Of course, if you think Dubya is totally awesome, no one can understand Al’s vocals anyway so you can still enjoy the album without being offended. I’m pretty sure the song Gangreen is pro-troops. I can’t say, again because I can’t quite understand the lyrics.

Rio Grande Blood is easily the best Ministry record since Psalm 69 – and the most consistent Ministry record since A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste! Thanks to some new members, it’s also the most metal Ministry record ever as well. Ultimately, it’s an excellent record to put in your car stereo and drive at extreme speeds wasting egregious amounts of gasoline – gasoline that comes from that sticky-sweet Rio Grande Blood oil.

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