Friday, March 30, 2012

Album Review: Ministry - "Relapse" (2012)



When Al Jourgensen stated his intent to permanently retire the Ministry machine back in 2008, I don’t think for a second that anyone really believed him. Whether as a cash grab or a genuine creative effort, we all knew Ministry would be back. And after a slew of remix and cover albums (some of which were awful but some of which actually aren’t too terrible in my opinion), here we are with a proper new album - the first since 2007’s The Last Sucker.
Our lineup for today features the return of our old pals Mike Scaccia [Revolting Cocks; Rigor Mortis] and Tommy Victor [Prong; Danzig] on guitar (the first time they’ve both been in the band simultaneously, and being that they’re two of my all-time favorite guitarists, this was something that particularly excited me about Relapse) and the inclusion of Tony Campos [Static-X; Prong] and Casey Orr [GWAR; Rigor Mortis] which makes for a pretty decent thrash lineup.
The album’s sound is interesting. It’s definitely the follow-up to Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker, but it branches out and builds on that style a bit. The two biggest places the album differs from those, however, are that, firstly, the songs have a bigger punk influence than the previous albums. The vocal delivery deviates sometimes from Al’s usual growl to more diverse shouting, snarling, and even quite a bit of spoken-word lyrics. Also, Al attempts melodic singing for what may be the first time since Animositisomina which is pretty nice. His voice is a lot less heavily processed in general here than is normally is, and there are a lot of 80’s metal-style ‘gang vocals’ which gives the vocal part of the album a more raw sound.
The other way the album deviates from its predecessors is that the ‘industrial’ knob is turned up way higher than it’s been in years (again, since probably Animositisomina). This is of course a pleasant and quite welcome surprise for me, since I love when Ministry makes use of electronics, and this album has a lot of keys, synths, samples (of people other than the GWB administration!) and chopped up sounds. There’s also an oddity in the tracklist; “Bloodlust”, which sounds largely like Prong mating with a Filth Pig song and, even odder, has a chorus almost like a Twitch song.
Most of the lyrics are still tired political ranting (and the worst song on the album, the first single, “99%”, exemplifies this) but there are a few tracks that aren’t, which I guess I’m thankful for. It’s notable that a few of the tracks had lyrics written solely by people other than Al (The second worst on the album, a song actually called ”Get Up, Get Out ‘n’ Vote”, I shit you not, written by Al’s wife/manager) and one such track, “Weekend Warrior”, was written as well as sung by Sam D’Ambruoso, the album’s producer and general production/programming/engineering credits guy on the last several Jourgensen-related albums. His different vocal style makes the song more interesting than it would have been if Al sang it. A lot of the tracks have elements that just don’t work for one reason or another, and some of them have a lot of repetition and feel half-baked. Production took precedence over songwriting on this album, though I can’t really complain all that much since Ministry is one of those bands that’s genuinely great while also being very good for mindless rocking-out anyway.
The best thing about the album, for me, is definitely the guitar work. I was excited about hearing Tommy Victor and Mike Scaccia play guitar in the same lineup, and I wasn’t disappointed with their contributions. They give some good riffs and insane, memorable solos like an industrial Slayer.
The thing about this album is, it’s not ever going to be the best anything, and will probably kind of fall into general obscurity in Ministry’s discog (kind of like other ‘redheaded stepchild albums’ that most folks don’t like and don’t get talked about too often, like Dark Side of the Spoon or Filth Pig), but it’s really not that terrible. Call it a guilty pleasure if you want; but it’s a fun album as far as modern industrial metal and thrash go.