Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
“Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man.” – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Dude, Ian MacKaye broke edge with Al Jourgensen from MINISTRY!
This bit of scene lore first trickled through the fire halls and VFW Post shows in the early 1990s. Bemoaned by the oath keeping, relished by the scant drunk punks/skin/dreddie burnouts that inhabited our then rarified subculture.
This sentence would have carried a great deal of scene currency had Ian bandied his dissolution of a lifestyle choice emblazoned in Magic Marker ink across the backs of hands the world over. To be fair, according to Al’s autobiography, he sipped a beer, and didn’t like it. Considering the headspace that Hypo Luxa was in at that time, one can easily claim that he is an unreliable narrator.
Al’s questionable temperance notwithstanding, this monumental scene happening took place whilst recording the Pailhead (Wax Trax/Cleopatra) singles in London, bearing a piece of Hardcore/Industrial crossover fruit, likes of which weren’t soon seen again. At least, not until the second Hardcore/Industrial crossover Al co-orchestrated (that time with Jello Biafra).
Inarguably, it is the betrothal of Hardcore and Industrial music that forged not only Ministry’s sound to come, but an entire flotilla of acts from the gnarly 808 and grind of Godflesh, the thrash and glitch of Front Line Assembly and Fear Factory, Skinny Puppy’s more metal induced turn in the Rick Rubin production “The Process”, and the faux-fascist send ups of Hanzel Und Gretyl (with a lot of Laibach and Death In June’s help as well). Even Teutonic warlords of Neue Deutsche Härte, Rammstein, owe much of their mammoth attack to this chance meeting in a London studio.
Prequel to this bold amalgamate, Uncle Al was creating frothy, Gothy, and danceable Post Punk that would have made Martin Gore blush. People tend to judge “With Sympathy” (Arista) far too harshly, with all of its faux Brit inflected vocals, pop friendly choruses, and an overall mood of playful angst. As electronic pop goes, it’s one of the better records of the time. When listening to groups like The Wake or London After Midnight, take note of that early Ministry showing. The influence is there. It’s everywhere in the landscape of current alternative.
Three years, 3 groundbreaking singles with the father of Straight Edge, and an entirely dissimilar sound later, Ministry unleashed “Twitch”. With a wall of sound akin to contemporaries like Front 242, Al’s days in the Post Punk sun were bid adieu in favor of a more aggro-Industrial bent, and dragging fellow electro softies like Trent Reznor into a bold, shiny, hyper-sexualized new world. With a break near the end of the first decade of the oughts, Ministry still delivers political unrest and cybernetic chaos in equal measures, unveiling “Moral Hygiene” (Nuclear Blast) in 2021, with nary a whiff of that fledgling record’s sound.
I am fairly certain that, had the CD version of “With Sympathy” not been given to me by a friend that purchased each and every Ministry CD in our local record shop, I may have gone decades without having even realized that this Ministry was the same as all the others. With all of its 80s roses on a granite countertop, a feminine hand in well manicured Lee Press Ons outstretched to caress… it didn’t even look like anything that followed.
Although he bemoans his first album as Victor Frankenstein did his reanimated flesh and blood golem, “With Sympathy”, well, IT’S ALIVE! It lives. It lives in records as sparse and menacing as The Murder Capital – “Gigi’s Recovery”(Human Season), Italia 90 – “Living Human Treasure” (Brace Yourself), the deeply melancholic and hushed strains of Inhaler – “Cuts and Bruises”(Polydor), the unhinged Billy Nomates – “Cacti” (Invada), the sung/spoken tongue in the light socket blasts of Mhaol – “Attachment Styles” (TULLE)… there is cadre of groups that also forsake much of the first in lieu of the second, and on and on.
Grave Babies re-emerged this month with the cassette only, doubly agitated “Death Will Kill Us All” (self-released). The Drin followed in kind with the beautifully challenging “Today My Friend You Drunk The Venom” (Feel It). Damien Done has dropped the most Darkwave sounding song of his career in “Pray For Me” (Mind Over Matter), a sexy little come on that bodes extremely well for forthcoming record “Total Power” due this coming May. Mono Inc bring the symphonic metal edge of Gothic tinged rock with “Ravenblack” (No Cut) ‘if you like that sort of thing’. The phenomenal Sad Madona bring the Coldwave back with new single “Craving” from the forthcoming “Dramatic Dance”(dramatic dance). Neon Insect harness “Land of Rape and Honey”/“Too Dark Park” era Skinny Puppy with new single “Rewired”(SR). Finally, To bring things full circle, the band that influenced Al’s initial outing, Depeche Mode teased us with the first single from “Momento Mori “, the New Order affected “Ghosts Again “.
Of course, we all know that Sisters Of Mercy are back on tour. We know that Depeche Mode will be taking their black celebration on the road. Al is ever traveling the highways of this poisonous land of ours with a sober mind poised to strike. Most all of the acts aforementioned are vying for your hard won money and they all deserve it. This Post-Everything era has allowed for an insurmountable amount of acts to make exemplary music and take it on the road. My point? Buy the tee shirt, attend the shows of acts you love, and for Christ’s sake, pay for the damned music! If the groups you love get day jobs, we’ll all be sorry.
“With Sympathy” is far from a great record. It, at times, sounds forced, feels like pantomime, and is neigh impossible to digest in one sitting. But it has moments of brilliance that are undeniable, a production that was certainly of its era, and a phenomenal document of a soon to be legend in Chrysalis, the shoal undulating, the newly winged creature gnashing at its walls in order to emerge the architect of “Land of Rape…”, “The Mind is a Terrible Thing…”, “Psalm 69”, and the criminally overlooked “Filth Pig”. It was great. Not by sounding as such, but by being his pupa to emerge from. It’s the best ‘worst’ record in the genre.
“A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley