CD Review

Ministry - "Dark Side of the Spoon"

By Dan Century

Dark Side of the SpoonOh, I get it, a heroin joke.

I remember the first time I heard Ministry. It was late 1989, around X-mas time. My best friends and I had gathered at Christina’s house for Mrs. Post’s delicious chocolate-chip cookies and bad movies (Shaft, Eraserhead, Mystery Science Theater type stuff). Around 5am we decided to call it a night. It was my job to drive everyone home – lucky me. Back in the day I had a black Ford Escort station wagon, perfect for pet funerals and chauffeuring weary friends. My last passenger was Tom, who lent me a Ministry cassette to “keep me awake.” “You like hard core – you’ll like this,” is just about what he said. I popped the cassette in the stereo and my life changed forever.

When I woke the next day I was the biggest Ministry fan in the world. I went out and bought Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and any Wax Trax! Al Jourgensen side project* I could find. Ah, the good old days – back when vinyl was still alive! Huge 12” album jackets with awesome artwork and occasional extras like the sheet of “Acid Horse” stamps that came with the record. The old Wax Trax! singles even had their own smell (I kid you not).

Between 89 and 92, it seemed like there was a new Ministry single or side project every month. It was awesome for fans with addictive tendencies like me. Jourgensen kept making them and I kept buying — and this was quality music — the kind of music that would make a dance floor explode, or make a party happen. Of course, that was then, and this is now...

When Filth Pig hit the shelves back in 1996, with a cover that looks like Late Night talk geek Conan O’Brien with a slab of veal on his head, it was clear that Ministry’s days of dance floor mad scientist mayhem were over. Ministry, for the first time, were trying to sound like a band — a slow, grinding, rock band. I can’t fault a band for trying to change their sound, and no musician has worn more musical masks than Jourgensen, however this disguise or experimentation was a failure. Blame what you want: drugs or detox, divorce, the absence of Bill Rieflin, Chris Connelly, or Ogre, turmoil and tragedy at Wax Trax! or Texas — ultimately it was the album that Ministry wanted to make at that point in time. I bought it...and returned it the same day.

OK, so it’s 1999 and Ministry has poured three years of life into their latest album Dark Side of the Spoon. At a time when every band is either banal, “tootie-fruitie,” or “trying too hard to be hard,” it would be perfect for Ministry to step in and rule the world. That would be the case...if Dark Side of the Spoon didn’t suck...

Dark Side for the most part is slow, lumbering, plodding, trudging, painful, indistinguishable noise...very much like a visit to the dentist. I despise dentists. First they make you wait, and wait, and wait, in a room filled with screaming children and their miserable, Martha Stewart wannabe, Beanie-Baby collecting mothers — and all the while you can hear the drill — rrrrrrEEeRRRRR. Finally they call you to “the chair,” but not before rendering you sterile with the x-ray machine. Once they have you in the chair they stick you with needles, they put heinous tasting gels in your mouth (“this is bubble gum flavor,” yeah right, since when did bubble gum taste like it dropped out of a monkey’s ass?), and the dentist breathes on you with that foul “dentist breath.” You have a mouth chock full o' cotton and metal and then comes that disgusting sucking hose and, inevitably, the drill: grinding teeth and gums — sending bone, blood, decay and mercury down your defenseless gullet... Slow, noisy, painful – just like the new Ministry album.

Dark Side of the SpoonNow, no visit to the dentist would be complete without a prize, would it? When you’re an adult they give you some lame floss or crappy purple Ortho tooth brush. Well, the Ministry album does have a few prizes, or surprises depending on how you want to look at it. The first track, Supermanic Soul is the type of industrial trash we’ve come to expect from Ministry. Garbled, over-processes vocals, mechanical, unrelenting beats, sampled and looped guitar riffs, “Crazy House” samples. Nothing new, nothing mind blowing, but fans of songs like N.W.O. and Just One Fix will eat it up.

Step is almost cute. It sounds like the metallic swing of Demon Speed with crazy hillbilly vocals – like Southern Culture on the Skids meets Primus, or if the Deliverance hillbillies had a metal band. The song appears to be about a guy struggling through a 12-step program. Good luck.

Vex & Soilence is plodding and sludgy like the bulk of the album, but it’s more like a Lead Into Gold song done with guitars. This song, featuring Paul on vocals, is obviously his baby. Clever guitar/harmonics melodies, and Barker’s trademark compressed, epic vocals with lyrics that always sound more important then they really are...kind of a treat for old school fans. Kind of.

Bad Blood, also part of the Matrix soundtrack, is hands down the best track on the album with solid metallic riffs like The Last Temptation of Ried era Lard. The whole album should have sounded like this. The dual vocals at times are tasty…sounds like Groovy Mann from My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult; nice pounding drums like Rieflin would play when he was in the band. As metal as they’ve ever been. It’s no longer fair to call them an industrial band.

Bad Blood is kind of like looking down and finding a quarter in a dog turd — for a split second you’re like “hey, a quarter,” but then you’re like “oh, but it’s surrounded by a huge, steaming, fly laden turd.” Do you pick up the quarter? Do you visit the dentist? You decide!

* PTP, Pailhead, the Blackouts, Acid Horse, 1000 Homo DJs, Revolting Cocks, Lead Into Gold, etc.

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