Ministry is an American industrial metal band founded by lead singer Al Jourgensen in 1981. Originally a new wavesynthpop outfit, Ministry changed its style to industrial metal in the mid-1980s. Ministry found mainstream success in the early 1990s with its most successful album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs (1992) and touring as part of the Lollapalooza festival.
After 27 years of performing, Jourgensen decided to end the band in 2008, saying a reunion would never happen. However, in August 2011, a reunion was announced, when Ministry confirmed they would play one of their first shows in four years at the Wacken Open Air festival in August 2012. Ministry released a new album, Relapse, on March 23, 2012, which was followed by a world tour. Following the death of long time guitarist Mike Scaccia, Ministry released their final album From Beer to Eternity in September 2013, but still plan to tour in support of that album.
Al Jourgensen began Ministry in Chicago, Illinois in 1981. His first band prior to Ministry was Special Affect with Groovie Mann (of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult), drummer Harry Rushakoff (Concrete Blonde) and bassist Marty Sorenson. After that was the short-lived Silly Charmichaels, with Ben Krug, Tom Krug and Tom Wall (all of The Imports).
The original line-up of Ministry consisted mainly of Jourgensen (vocals and guitar), Stephen George (drums), Robert Roberts (keyboards), and John Davis (keyboards), although with a few personnel changes, the band’s image would begin to focus more on Jourgensen and Stephen George. Ministry’s original sound was essentially new wavesynthpop that was more melodic and stylized than the aggressive music for which they would become known. Ministry released four 12″ singles on Wax Trax! Records from 1981 to 1984 (anthologized on Twelve Inch Singles (1981–1984) that featured the club favorite “Everyday Is Halloween“).
Their first LP With Sympathy, was issued on Arista Records in 1983 and hit the upper 90s in the Billboard 200. The LP was well received by college radio fans initially and became common in many new wave album collections at the time. The music in With Sympathy and the singles Arista issued in association with it were a melodic type of synthpop and part of the new wave sound growing in popularity in the early 1980s. Songs from the LP were played live as an opening act for The Police during the Synchronicity Tour’s North American leg, the band was well received by the large arena audiences. Jourgensen has expressed disappointment with some of Ministry’s recordings during those early years. According to him, after signing the record contract, all artistic control of Ministry was “handed” over to other writers and producers. Some of his preferred recordings from that era were collected into the CD Early Trax (Rykodisc Records, 2004).
By the mid-1980s, Jourgensen parted ways with George and signed to Sire Records. Jourgensen performed mostly solo for Ministry’s next LP, Twitch (1986), which sold well, but was still considered to be “underground”. The music was danceable electronic music, but wasn’t pop music, and the sound was harsher and more aggressive than what Ministry had recorded before. According to Jourgensen, “Twitch was stuff that I was doing before With Sympathy came out. Some of that stuff was already four or five years old, but the record company didn’t want to use it, so…”. Much of the new sound was created with the use of digital sampling and the input of producer Adrian Sherwood.
After Twitch, Jourgensen made the most significant change in Ministry’s history when he became re-enchanted with the electric guitar. Jourgensen also brought bass guitarist Paul Barker of the Seattle band The Blackouts into the Ministry camp; Barker would remain Jourgensen’s bandmate for many years when he was the only person credited as a member of the band other than Jourgensen. With the addition of The Blackouts drummer William Rieflin, Ministry recorded The Land of Rape and Honey (1988). The album continued their success in the underground music scene. The Land of Rape and Honey made use of synthesizers, keyboards, tape loops, jackhammering drum machines, dialogue excerpted from movies, unconventional electronic processing, and, in parts, heavy distorted electric guitar and bass.
The album was supported by a tour in 1988 and the singles and music videos for “Stigmata” and “Flashback“. Stigmata was also used in a key scene in Richard Stanley’s 1990 film Hardware, although the band shown performing the song was Gwar.
The follow-up, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste was supported by a tour from 1989 to 1990. Due to the complex nature of the album’s drumming, a second drummer, Martin Atkins, was used. In addition to Atkins, a ten piece touring line-up was formed, consisting of Chris Connelly (keyboards and vocals), Nivek Ogre(vocals and keyboards), Joe Kelly (vocals and backing vocals) and guitarists Mike Scaccia, Terry Roberts, and William Tucker, with Jourgensen, Barker and Rieflin serving as the groups core members. This tour was documented on In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. Three singles, Thieves, “Burning Inside” (for which a video was made), and So What where released from the album.
Throughout the late 1980s Jourgensen and Barker expanded their ideas beyond Ministry into a seemingly endless parade of side projects and collaborations. Many of these bore Ministry’s signature sound and the duo’s “Hypo Luxa/Hermes Pan” production imprint. (These side-projects were also responsible for the delayed release of Ministry’s next album.) Foremost of these was Ministry’s alter ego, the Revolting Cocks. “RevCo”, as it is often referred to, essentially became the same band as it had originally featured Belgian musicians Richard 23 (of Front 242) and Luc Van Acker. Jourgensen and Barker also formed Lard with Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra, Acid Horse with Cabaret Voltaire, 1000 Homo DJs (which featured Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor doing vocals on a cover ofBlack Sabbath‘s Supernaut), PTP with Chris Connelly and Pailhead with Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi.
Barker released his own material as Lead into Gold and Jourgensen produced and played electric guitar on Skinny Puppy‘s Rabies LP. Atkins and Rieflin also formed the band Pigface, which featured Barker on several tracks, as well. The smaller of these projects were later collected on the CD Side Trax (Rykodisc Records, 2004), and the RevCo discography was remastered and reissued.
Ministry broke into the mainstream in 1991 with “Jesus Built My Hotrod” (co-authored by Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers and Michael Balch of Frontline Assembly affiliation). The music video was a hit, and the band scored second billing on the Lollapalooza tour and managed, by some accounts, to steal the show. As the single would have indicated, the sound of the following LP, Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs (1992), was the most metal-oriented Ministry had put to record at that point, the focal point of the sound shifting almost entirely from synths to Jourgensen’s and new members Mike Scaccia‘s andLouis Svitek‘s electric guitars.
ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ, which is printed on the record, is a concatenation of “κεφαλή” (Greek for “head” or “leader”) and “ΞΘ” (the number 69 in Greek numerals). The title was borrowed from Aleister Crowley‘s work: The Book of Lies (Chapter 69, “The Way to Succeed—and the Way to Suck Eggs!”). Psalm 69 became Ministry’s biggest hit, including in addition to “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, the singles “N.W.O.” (a protest of the Persian Gulf War and attack directed at then-President George H.W. Bush) and “Just One Fix” (a collaboration with poet/novelist William S. Burroughs). The single “N.W.O.” was used in the 1992 live-action/animated movie Cool World. Later, NWO was used in Need For Speed – The Run video game.
In 1994, Ministry performed at the Bridge School Benefit charity concert, covering songs by Bob Dylan, Ten Years After, and The Grateful Dead, and playing a new song, “Paisley”, which was intended to be on their next album. In 1995, Ministry was one of the headlining acts for Australia and New Zealand‘s Big Day Out touring festival. In spite of their growing success, Ministry was nearly derailed by a series of arrests and drug problems. The band did not issue their next album, Filth Pig, until 1996. For Filth Pig, Ministry stripped all synthesizers and most samples from their style and made the music almost entirely with ultra-noisy guitars, heavy bass, and real drums.
The songs were played mostly at slower tempos than the very fast ones that were used for the compositions on their previous three LPs, giving it an almost doom metal feel. Filth Pig was supported with the singles/videos “Reload“, “The Fall“, “Lay Lady Lay” (an unusual and unexpected cover of Bob Dylan’s old country-tinged hit) and “Brick Windows” and with a tour in 1996 (the live performances were later anthologized on the Sphinctour album and DVD in 2002). The album has been considered by Jourgensen to be his response to fan expectations of where Ministry’s sound was heading.
Ministry recorded their final studio album for Warner Bros. Records, Dark Side of the Spoon (1999), which they dedicated to William Tucker, who committed suicide earlier that year. For Dark Side of the Spoon, Ministry tried to diversify their sound by adding some melodic and synthetic touches, to their usual electro-metal sound, along with some jazz influences, but the album was not well received. However, the single “Bad Blood” appeared on the soundtrack album of The Matrixand was nominated for a 2000 Grammy award.
In the summer of 2000, Ministry was invited to that year’s Ozzfest. They would fill in the co-headliner position left vacant by a failed-reuniting of the original Judas Priest. Ministry was later dropped from the bill after a management changeover. They were replaced by Soulfly.
After Ministry parted ways with their longtime record label Warner Bros. Records, the label issued the collection Greatest Fits in 2001, which featured a new song, “What About Us?”. Ministry would later perform the song in a cameo appearance in the Steven Spielberg film AI: Artificial Intelligence. During the years 2000-2002, disputes with Warner Bros. Records resulted in the planned albums Live Psalm 69, Sphinctour and ClittourUS on Ipecac Recordings being canceled. Sphinctourwas released on Sanctuary Records.
Around 2001, Jourgensen almost lost his arm when he was bitten by a venomous spider, but, refusing to stay in the hospital, he lost his big toe instead.According to Jourgensen, the realization that he could have lost his livelihood caused him to kick his heroin addiction and focus on music once again. Jourgensen and Barker, along with Max Brody who had joined as a saxophone player for the 1999 tour, focused on developing songs for a new record during 2001 and 2002, with the band issuing Animositisomina on Sanctuary Records in 2003. The sound was strongly heavy metal laden with voice effects, and matched the ferocity ofPsalm 69 (though it featured an almost-pop cover of Magazine‘s “The Light Pours Out Of Me”). Animositisomina did poorly in terms of sales and singles for “Animosity” and “Piss” were canceled before they could be released.
Barker left the Ministry camp in 2003. He stated that the trigger was his father dying while the band was wrapping up a summer tour in Europe, and also stated in early 2004 that his family life was his main focus at that particular time. Jourgensen continued Ministry with Mike Scaccia and various other musicians.
For Ministry’s next album, Jourgensen released the song “No W“, an attack on then-U.S. President George W. Bush; an alternate version of the track was placed on the multi-performer compilation Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1. The follow-up LP,Houses of the Molé (2004), contained the most explicitly political lyrics Jourgensen had yet written, with songs in Ministry’s classic industrial electro-metallic sound played messier, more crudely and more freely than ever before, giving the album the most metal-oriented sound of their career. In 2006 the band released Rio Grande Blood, an LP on Jourgensen’s own13th Planet Records. With Prong‘s Tommy Victor and Killing Joke‘s Paul Raven, the album featured an even heavier thrash metal sound drawing comparison to Slayer. The single “Lieslieslies” was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance at the 49th annual Grammy Awards. It, along with another song on the album, “The Great Satan”, is also available as a downloadable content song for the 2008 video game Rock Band 2. In July 2007, the band released Rio Grande Dub, an album featuring remixes from the band’s 2006 Rio Grande Blood album.
On June 4, 2007, Al Jourgensen filed a Tortious Interference lawsuit against ex-bassist Paul Barker and Spurburn Music in Los Angeles Superior Court. (case #SC094122) The case was dismissed on October 24, 2008.
Al Jourgensen remixed and co-produced Spyder Baby’s “Bitter”, which was released by Blind Prophecy Records in early 2008.
A song titled “Keys to the City“, the theme song for the Chicago Blackhawks was released on March 5, 2008. In addition to this single, two albums of covers/remixes, Cover Up (April 1, 2008) and Undercover (December 7, 2010) were released. All of these releases are credited to Ministry and Co-Conspirators, since they feature collaborations between Al Jourgensen and other musicians.
Ministry’s farewell tour, the “C-U-LaTour”, started its North American leg on March 26, 2008 with Meshuggah performing as special guests and Hemlock as an opening act. They played their final North American show in Chicago on 12 May 2008. The final date on their farewell tour was at the Tripod in Dublin, Ireland on 18 July 2008. During the performance, Jourgensen repeatedly reaffirmed it would indeed be the last ever Ministry show. Due to a large demand for tickets, an extra gig was added at the Tripod on 19 July 2008. The band again played to a full house. Ministry’s final song at this show (and ostensibly their last ever live performance) was a rendition of their cover version of “What a Wonderful World“ to the music of “Jesus built my Hot-Rod”.
A documentary film called Fix: The Ministry Movie (original title: Fix) was planned for release sometime in 2010. However, the release date was pushed back to early 2011. The documentary premiered at the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival. Jourgensen sued the maker, Doug Freel, for failing to fulfill his part of the contract (giving Jourgensen approval over the final cut, along with “thousands of dollars”). The lawsuit was dropped in July 2011. On July 21, the film was screened privately at the Music Box Theater in Los Angeles.
On August 7, 2011, it was announced that Ministry was reforming and would play at Germany’s Wacken Open Air festival, set to take place August 2–4, 2012.The reunion lineup featured Al Jourgensen on vocals, Mike Scaccia and Tommy Victor both on guitar, Aaron Rossi on drums, John Bechdel on keyboards andTony Campos on bass.
Jourgensen told Metal Hammer in August 2011 that Ministry was working on a new album called Relapse, which they hoped to release by Christmas. Regarding the sound of the new material, he explained, “We’ve only got five songs to go. I’ve been listening to it the last couple of weeks and I wasn’t really in the mood, I was just taking it as a joke. Just to pass the time at first but [Mikey’s] raving about it. It’s like, dude c’mon, this is not about Bush, so… that part’s over. The ulcers are gone and Bush is gone so it’s time for something new. I think this is actually gonna wind up being the fastest and heaviest record I’ve ever done. Just because we did it as anti-therapy therapy against the country music we would just take days off and thrash faster than I’ve done in a long time, faster than Mikey’s done in a long time. He just did a Rigor Mortis tour and said it was easy compared to this Ministry stuff so it’s gonna be brutal and it’s gonna freak a lot of people out.”
Ministry announced on their website that they entered the studio on September 1, 2011 with engineer Sammy D’Ambruoso to begin recording their new album.During the third webisode featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Relapse, a release date of March 3, 2012 was announced.
On December 23, 2011, Ministry released “99 Percenters“, the first single from Relapse, and began streaming it on their Facebook page two days later. On February 22, 2012, Ministry released a second single, “Double Tap“, which was included in the April 2012 issue of the Metal Hammer magazine. On March 23, 2012, Relapse was released.
In an interview with Noisey in March 2013, Jourgensen announced that Ministry would break up again, explaining that he does not want to carry on without Scaccia. “Mikey was my best friend in the world and there’s no Ministry without him”, he said. “But I know the music we recorded together during the last weeks of his life had to be released to honor him. So after his funeral, I locked myself in my studio and turned the songs we had recorded into the best and last Ministry record anyone will ever hear. I can’t do it without Mikey and I don’t want to. So yes, this will be Ministry’s last album.” The album, titled From Beer to Eternity, was released on September 6, 2013. Jourgensen has stated that Ministry plans to tour in support of From Beer to Eternity, but will not record any more albums.
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