MINISTRY: Dark Side of the Spoon

PLUNGING THE INDUSTRIAL QUAGMIRE
Chasing a high speed Ministry fix? Just press play – and then leave the building in three minutes. Dark Side of the Spoon is a trudge through a dead man’s blues.

Dark Side of the Spoon by Ministry

Not that you’d know that from the whipcracker opener Supermanic Soul. As insane and ridiculous a start as Ministry ever did, it packs the same dry yammer beat as The Land of Rape and Honey’s The Missing but is heavier, and then WAY heavier – just wait for the second guitar to drop its motherlode, it’s absolutely filthy. More a corroding quake than a riff, it’s one of those WAAAAA! moments on a shit-hot track where Al Jourgensen sounds insane throughout, cooking his voice into a bubbling garble to match the heroin reference of the album title.
Ministry then punch the decelerator for a minute or four. Whip and Chain broods gothic heaviosity on a two-chord crush – kinda like The Fall from Filth Pig – before Bad Blood flirts with a metronomic pace pick-up, which makes you think that Dark Side’s going to drop some some nippier Ministry morsels after Filth Pig’s murk
but no. That’s it, speed freaks, so unbuckle up and prepare to crawl. Eureka Pile slows the pulse with worm-shaker bass and space, loads of it, round a faltering riff, and this is the truth of where Ministry are/is on DSOTS. The music here isn’t the mechanised industrial metal attack of old. It’s flawed and damaged by fingertips with destructive prints. The mess-age is human, and Filth Pig was no aberration. It was a sign.
Mid-album oddball Step swings, literally, like an out-of-character gatecrasher before the album lurches back to Dark Side’s draggy mid-tempo type and sticks there. The slow-pick banjo and skidding sax on Nursing Home conjure hazy, vaguely middle Easternalia, while the freakish bass on Kaif – crumbled by distortion – is nothing less than monstrous. Definite high points, those two.
By the time we get to Vex & Siolence, we’re defeated. Lyrics reference ‘a fading memory’, and whatever those words actually refer to, they’re an apt descriptor for what the old-school Mind/Psalm-era Ministry has become – a memory. There’s little here to evoke their pre-Filth Pig firepower. Jourgensen’s flat intonation suggests a body that’s heavy, weary and about to give up. Life is leaking away. Maybe it just doesn’t care. Electrifying solo, though.
And this is the mood of the album, to me. It’s a band in the pits, resigned to the end-life, unable to stop yet still pulling out the quality – they’re just pulling it in a wildly different direction to many fans’ expectations. Is it down to peak substance abuse and the collapsing relationship between Jourgensen and Paul Barker? Yes. But it makes for a compelling album that’s far better than critical indifference that flops around it.
10/10 ends the album in 7/4 time with energy and optimism, or maybe it’s just relief. There are no vocals. Saxophone flurries take the voice’s place, as if the body (band?) died and now we’ve finally got some respite with crunching metallic loops for company.
We know that Neil Young recorded his ‘ditch trilogy’ in the 70s. Dark Side of the Spoon may well be the mid-point of Ministry’s own three-part ditch hell, completed by 2003’s Animositisomina. After that, from Houses of the Mole onwards, they opted for machine riffs, speed beats and megaphone sloganeering which set the direction, more or less, for Ministry from then till now – fast and metallic, more direct. Dark Side of the Spoon is messy, stumbling and adrift, not so much a downward spiral as a sunken one.

But if you’re open to that kind of mix, it’s one of their best – maybe also their most varied after Land of Rape and Honey – and a showcase for Jourgensen’s production, even if, as he says in Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, he can’t remember making it. Fathom THAT.

ONE DAY AS A LION: One Day As A Lion

DISTORTED AGITATION FROM DE LA ROCHA AND QOTSA DRUMMER
Given that the world has been spiralling to shit, you might have found yourself reaching for angrier music more often. I have. Music that’s got the gravitas, the provocation and the intellect to somehow document and deal with the insane wrong-ness of dumbfuck cops killing black people, and dumber-fuck ‘cenotaph protectors’ destroying Black Lives Matter protests in the false name of monument-al preservation. Dipshits and hackle raisers. No wonder Terrace Martin’s Pig Feet, wrapped and dropped within days of George Floyd’s killing, hits so hard. Pig Feet does not flinch.

Neither does Zack de la Rocha. His full-tilt delivery always captures these moments and even now, aged 50, he’s got the fury – check the explosive verse in Run The Jewels’ JU$T for evidence of that. His voice is the sound of a fight. But with Rage Against the Machine, it battles with another wild voice – Tom Morello’s guitar – and winds up less prominent in the rock orthodoxy of the RATM set up.

Maybe this is why he’s been such a serial collaborator since RATM last put a record out. Those guest slots put his voice up front, give it room, give it oxygen. They make his words flammable.

This is also true of the short-lived 2008 project with Jon Theodore, One Day As A Lion. As a primal drum-bass effort where the voice gets a 5-track vent, it’s way less Rock than Rage – got a raw urgency and a just-produced-enough attitude that’s clammy with rehearsal-room heat. Nothing arena-sized, no anthemic hooks, no guitar, just a very live-sounding gig stripped back to stiff rhythms and hard words. And with Theodore, ex Mars Volta and now Queens of the Stone Age, behind the kit, you know the drums are solid. His beats aren’t minimal, but neither are they fussy. They are, somehow, hip-hop friendly.

One Day As A Lion EP

Life beyond Rage

Wild International‘s petro-fumed groove is the mid-tempo starter that smoulders rather than explodes, like it’s on cruise control looking for a target. Downtuned bass riffs swell for the chorus, thick and sticky not liquid slick, and this track sets the vibe for the whole EP. The tempo (agitation?) picks up for Ocean View, Last Letter and One Day As A Lion, while If You Fear Dying locks onto the same spacious groove as Wild International. Other than that, you know roughly what you’ll get, track to track – unlike, say, Saul Williams’s self-titled conflict-zone masterpiece of hip hop, poetry, electronic, industrial and spoken word from 2004 (where Zack winds the tension on Act III Scene 2 [Shakespeare]).

One Day As A Lion don’t do genre hops and mood shifts. Their force is rough-edged, avant-ish primal rock with urban backbone and no, it wouldn’t hold your attention musically for a full album. But as an EP, as a righteous blast, it works ‘coz you get 20 uninterrupted minutes of de la Rocha flow, and this is the key point. As we know, he’s got that gift for making you BELIEVE – absolute conviction and persuasion every time, and right now we need that voice even if we didn’t know it. JU$T is the 2020 reminder. One Day As A Lion might be more curio than must-have, but as a non-Rage de la Rocha fix, it’s pure. The message remains the same

but now it’s 2020.

FFS.

Time is coming
rising like the dawn of a red sun
If you fear dying
then you’re already dead
(If You Fear Dying, One Day As A Lion)

DESERT STORM SEND HEAVY OMENS

MAY & JUNE REWIND: FINNISH PUNISHMENT, FUTURISTIC FOLK, HARDCORE TRASH AND OTHER NEW SOUNDS FROM MAY AND JUNE

Fancy a bit of Triptykon in a summer solstice heatwave? Nope. Not. At. All. But, now that the clouds and monsoon squalls have returned AND THE NIGHTS ARE DRAWING IN, we’ve got a brief opening to revel in some typically darkened heft from Thomas G Warrior and ensemble. Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) is the full Requiem suite, live with the Metropole Orkest, completed specially for a one-off performance at the Roadburn festival. The new piece is the centrepiece: the half hour Grave Eternal, pitched black and long between parts I and III, Rex Irae and Winter. Heavy as a funeral.

Oxford behemoths Desert Storm launched their new album Omens in May. The previous album, 2018’s Sentinels, wasn’t just Desert Storm’s best album to date but one of the best metal releases of the last two years – file under Grizzly Bastard Rage and Groove. How does the follow-up follow that? It might be asking too much of anyone, and on first listen Omens sounds sombre, maybe even serious. Definitely less of the outward bodyrock vibe, if that makes sense. But it is loaded with commanding riffs and starts to reveal itself after a couple more listens. Desert Storm do not fail, more words will follow.

Away from metal, here are some other standout tunes from the past couple of (still weird) months.

TERRACE MARTIN – Pig Feet

OK, this ferocious track got priority status in the Lockdown Music: Week 12, but its power has not waned, even though the news is moving on. Mandatory listening and viewing, I reckon. For all of us.

HELEN MONEY – Coil

Cellist, composer and, on this track at least, post-rock gnarly dronemaker, Helen Money’s Coil takes Thee Silver Mt Zion’s delicate grandeur and smears it with King of the Slums’ canal-water dank. Doesn’t it? Definitely getting a whiff of Manco Diablo in there. But where KOTS linger at street and below, this track also soars way above the grime.

CASPAR BROTZMANN MASSAKER – The Tribe

Continuing the Southern Lord reissues, none of which I’ve got round to yet, The Tribe is another reminder of Brotzmann’s wild noise rock guitar assault from the 80s and 90s. Sheets of noise and moan. Whether we can last a whole album of longer tracks is a different story.

C DIAB – Street Scenes

There’s something both ground-level loco-motive and mountain-high questing about this instrumental, percussion-less voyage. When you learn that C Diab is Canadian and based in Vancouver, you paste your own visions of infinite plains and towering geological spectacle all over it, no matter how reductive that might be. Sigur Ros-ian swirl with tension-built motion.

SHARRON KRAUS – Tell Me Why

Folk melodies, naked vocals, delicate instrumentation … so far, so traditional. But there’s an ish. When the gentle electro (is it?) oscillation pulses ‘neath the acoustic, it somehow transforms the track and turns it into a part-ancient/part-sci fi hybrid that’s wholly addictive.

[struggling to find a Bandcamp link so scroll down here]

ORANSSI PAZUZU – Kuulen aania maan alta

The vocals might be ripped from a ragged black metal hand-me-down, but the beats, drones and processed fuzz on this track nod to Blanck Mass more than black metal. Maybe. Then again, what do I know? Anyway, this one plays out like a rapid exit from a carnival spiked with the bad stuff … metallic psyche with nightmare visions.

SCANNER – Step Ahead

Dreamworld travelscape. Whispered words and constant movement. Spectral flames and stretched realities. Or maybe just a fucking gorgeous slice of semi ambient Scanner. Yeah, that’s it. Transport yourself here.

TRASH TALK – Something Wicked

New hardcore needed ? Here’s a nice little 89-second wakey-wakey. Never heard them before, despite their 15-year life, but seeing that Thomas Pridgen – Pinnick Gales Pridgen, ex Mars Volta – plays drums is pushing the intrigue button a little harder.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind