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.

GNORTHERN POWERHOUSE

APRIL REWIND: GNOD GET PERCUSSIVE

Fewer new tracks than usual, as will most likely be the way with these lockdown Rewinds because exploratory radio listening is a little bit reduced, but we’ll give it a go. A couple of new albums got spun though, like Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Viscerals is as raging and space fried as you want, further pushing the Pigs’ move from hammer-heavy sprawls to concise beatings, and with Crazy in Blood they’ve gone and done a proper earworm. Not just the riff either, the chorus is knockout.

And Mind Hive by Wire is – on first listen – rich and involving, something that demands proper attention. Which it will get very soon.

OK, on with those tunes.

THE LEAF LIBRARY – An Edge, An Ending
Whirring semi-ambient soundscapes in persistent motion, warm crackles on the beats, not a million miles from worriedaboutsatan’s intimate beats. It doesn’t really need the vocals – by the time they come in, the track is lodged in your head as an instrumental – but the voice doesn’t detract either. Could it be the soundtrack to a free-flowing bike ride through city streets deserted by corona? Yes. It was. Do it.

GNOD & JOAO PAIS FILIPE – Faca de Terra
7-plus minutes of percussive trance and hypno repetitions – intriguing stuff, complete with dark turn and guitar spirals mid track. No bludgeon or infinite punishment, it’s too intricate and upbeat for that, yet the Gnod spirit flows strong in this new collaboration. Check it here.

MINISTRY – Alert Level
Borne out of lockdown, we have all-new Ministry. With Bill Rieflin’s recent passing, there’s been a lot of Ministry played round here so this is timely and EXCITING. Sure enough, apocalyptic visions and a no-messing riff run grooves in your head like mid 90s Prong, then … not much else. Even with former Tool man Paul d’Amour on bass, and even with our sky-high Ministry love wanting it to be great, Alert Level lets your attention go and drops to background. Will its simplicity work better on an album, like NWO does? Or will it never cut the Ministry mustard? Let’s see.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

MARK LANEGAN LIVE + 2017 MOMENTS

DECEMBER REWIND: MARK LANEGAN BAND PLAYS OXFORD, PLUS A 2017 REWIND

Gargoyle. When you see Mark Lanegan stand dead still on stage, face lived-in and unbreaking, you wonder if the name of the album is a knowing, unmoving nod to his stage self.

Then you cast the thought off. Lanegan does not come across as a guy who does send-up, not in public at least. Gargoyles survive centuries though, and Lanegan’s voice has the same survivor’s trait, but the man himself …. at times he looks like he might not get much beyond another day. He only moves from and to the mic when he has to get a drink, and does it slowly with a limp. Every time he moves, he grimaces. Definitely not the imposing moody bruiser you’ve imagined – no, he looks like a veteran fighter in semi-retirement, taking the stage with reluctance. To anyone who hasn’t seen him in person before – me – it’s a bit of a shock. Puts you at unease.

Is Lanegan’s voice diminished? No. Not a bit. It’s exactly what you know from the records – rich, lived-in, strong with weary edge, and he doesn’t falter or miss all night. Death’s Head Tattoo and Gravedigger give us an early rush before Shelley Brien takes co-vocals on Hit the City‘s highway cool. Nocturne pulls out those Euro-driven post-punk synth-pop stops, pulsing like Simple Minds’ Theme for Great Cities, and it’s these tracks, the ones that drive you through metropolitan nightscapes, that work the best. Riot in My House showcases Jeff Fielder’s liquid solos, and that guy is stellar, totally immersed in the songs – he’s into it, bodily into it, with creeper-hop moves and dapper hat that are more acid jazz moonlighter than rock supremo. Class act, as is the whole band. Methamphetamine Blues closes the set with clank ‘n’ growl, then the encore gets stripped to guitar and voice only. Brien joins for a closing Bombed.

It’s a great gig, but an odd-funny one too (and we’re not even going near support act Joe Cardamone’s Holy War filmwank). You could say that Lanegan’s voice doesn’t fit the higher energy rock that he now does, yet it totally works. You could also say that he doesn’t fit the trad rock set-up on stage and you’d be right. And you would put cash on “Mark will be out in 15 minutes to sign any merchandise you have, he’d love to meet you” not being the last words of the set, but they are. A meet and greet with Mark Lanegan? Get the fork outta here.

But sure enough, he appears walking slowly with a cane, joined by Shelley, and they take their seats at the merch stand. They sign stuff, they shake everyone’s hands, it’s a cool thing to see. Would they sign my ticket, please? Of course they would. Happy new year, guys.

LANEGAN TICKET

MOMENTS OF THE YEAR

We’re already drowning in end-of-year lists, but I’ll add a drop’s worth anyway. What’s the criteria? Music moments 2017 – pretty much new, a little of the old, simple as that. The big 2017 reviews shame us into seeing how far off the pulse we non-music-biz mortals really are, but they give us plenty of stuff to check as well: a last grab at being remotely current.

They also make us wonder what everyone sees in LCD Soundsystem. 

Again.

NOTHING IS DEFINITIVE. Let’s go.

KXM – Scatterbrain
Rapid-fire prog-pyro technics launch the second KXM album. So, who KXM again? Dug Pinnick (King’s X) + George Lynch (Lynch Mob/Dokken) + Ray Luzier (Korn). Many of Pinnick’s projects overlap his mother band’s sound, but KXM does push a bit further out because Lynch has a tone all his own, and Ray Luzier lays down some pristine metallic double-kick action, yet the bedrock of it all are those big stop-starter funk-heavy grooves. Check Panic Attack for an epic Lynchian solo over heavy-Beatles harmony. If you’re looking to fall back in love with guitar heroes and musos who serve the song, submit to KXM’s hard-rock mastery.

King’s X live in Bristol
Might as well get straight on to the other 2017 Pinnick high: King’s X live, in the UK. After a life-time’s fandom, seeing them for the first time was odds-on to be Gig of the Year, and it was. It still is. This is what it felt like. King’s X, we salute you.

Buzz and Dale
First it was Crystal Fairy who crunched our worlds with revitalised riffage, then Melvins took us on A Walk with Love and Death double header, with Death possibly the best Melvins album since Freak Puke and one that draws on Stag‘s vintage lurch without ever doing a retread. Dale Crover put a solo record out, too – haven’t heard it, one for next year, surely.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Chanced upon these raucous fuckbags back in January and pounced on one-track EP The Wizard and the Seven Swines. One of the best listens of the year. Debut album Feed the Rats landed in 2017, and though more hinged, it’s still a righteous slab of sludgy noisy drawn-out psyche.

Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Any Robert Plant record is a big deal, no matter how it turns out. Carry Fire isn’t the global psychedelic melt that we might expect from the Sensational Space Shifters – more wistful Welsh valley than charging Mali burn – and its restrained mood is at odds with Plant’s life-affirming interviews, so what gives? Once The May Queen has skipped past, side A keeps it slow and you’re straining for a kick, but after that – Carving Up The World Again onwards – it hits the Plant mark. Bones of Saints echoes Mighty Rearranger, Carry Fire conjures bazaars and street heat while Keep it Hid tiptoes a Space Shifter electronica shimmy. Given time, the slower tracks grow, but best of all is Heaven Sent at the record’s end – heavy, slow-droning surf, one of Plant’s darkest. Majesterial stuff as always, just a bit more hidden. Slow-releasing heat.

Dead Cross – Dead Cross
Old Kids on the Block? Yeah, but the joy of hearing Patton THIS animated and Lombardo THAT ferocious in a 28-minute ultrablast is hard to top.

Ministry – Rio Grande Blood
Jizzy Pearl played Wasted in America at the Bullingdon in 2017. Of course, it launched a Love/Hate listening phase, and that somehow led to a Ministry revival as well – you know what it’s like. Must have been a bands-of-92 thing. Anyway, Ministry. Don’t know how long you stuck with them, but I stopped buying after Houses of the Mole, not for any great reason other than the stacks of other new bands and sounds to grab hold of. Suddenly you’ve got a four-album Ministry deficit and the guitarist has died. Shit. What happens when you then get stuck in to Rio Grande Blood? It blows your head. Senor Peligro is ferocious, aggressive, surely one of the hardest tracks they’ve ever done. Cue immediate Ministry gap fill, and if you can stomach a bit of gross-out reading while you do the same, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen is it (get it on Kindle). Frank, funny and disgusting, it’s an unbelievable tale (literally, in the Robert Plant anecdote Led Zeppelin in 1983, really???) where you can’t help but be charmed by Alien J. Lotta self deprecation, whole lotta self abuse, some horrible fucking stories. Get past the first few pages and you won’t stop.

Prince – Around the World in a Day
The Prince education continues, and this album … well, Tamborine and America. How hard is the funk on those tracks? ’nuff said. Staggering.

Chris Cornell 

We all know the story. We all know it doesn’t sit right, either. Going beyond Soundgarden, Carry On and Songbook have kept Cornell’s flame flickering this year, and the more you listen, the deeper that talent  and loss – goes.

Myrkur – Mareridt
Already referenced here as a winter soundtrack, Mareridt covers many more bases than Myrkur’s debut album M. It is less metal – much less – but more diverse, more coherent and more euphoric in an icy, nightmare folk kinda way. Ghosts of black metal. #2 in Metal Hammer’s 2017 review.

Wire live in Oxford
Chairs missing. Doors opening. (non) review right here.

Paradise Lost – Medusa
20 years after last picking up a Paradise Lost album (One Second), Medusa became an impulse buy. Don’t know why. Must have been the subliminal dark arts of the reviews and interviews, and it’s still too new to know well, but it’s got a mature, heavy crunch. Slow-moving and resolute, Medusa is grounded – exactly what we need in fast, unstable times. Just goth enough, feels like a stayer. Let’s see.

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Mary Anne Hobbs and Stuart Maconie are all over Kamasi Washington on 6 Music, as are many others, but if you’re open to The Jazz yet rarely snagged, Washington’s triple disc debut The Epic would be way too much. Maybe he knows this. Maybe this is why he put out Harmony of Difference, a 32-minute 6-tracker (at EP price, bargainheads) that uses counterpoint theory – not something I know about, but Harmony is a rich, fullsome listen that might even beat a path to The Epic… one day.

What else for 2017?

Drore

Mastodon!!! But Emperor of Sand tops the Metal Hammer poll, so go read a proper write up over there instead.

Other 2017 stuff not yet managed: king crimson live in chicago QOTSA – big|brave  motorpsycho hannah peel godflesh  mogwai nine inch nails gy!be – the bug vs earth and so on anon anon anon…

HAPPY NEW YEAR, see you in 2018!