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.
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.
Ministry: Dark Side of the Moon (Warner Bros, 1999)
Whip and Chain
Vex & Siolence
+ hidden track