The third time’s a charm! Over the last two years, Ministry’s “Industrial Strength Tour” had been rescheduled twice due to COVID spikes. The show was billed as the 30th anniversary tour for 1989’s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, a landmark album that set the music world ablaze with its fusion of thrash guitars and industrial-grade synth and percussion.
Legions of imitators followed, but few lived up to the high standards set by Al Jourgensen and an evolving cast of collaborators who sprung mostly out of Chicago’s Wax Trax Records scene.
If you were hanging around record stores circa ‘88-’92, you know that Jourgensen’s influence was ubiquitous — Ministry was a dark horse rising alongside Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Nirvana, Pavement, et al. But despite many fans’ vocal disdain, each new record plunged the group’s contrapuntal rhythms and new wave leanings deeper into the dark side of metal.
Uncle Al had an angst-ridden, politically astute, and heavy as hell vision, and he’s stuck to it all the way through 2021’s Moral Hygiene. But on March 22 at the Tabernacle, Ministry opened a window into that circa ‘88 era, capturing the height of Jourgensen’s creative output when he was functioning at peak performance.
Corrosion Of Conformity opened the show while the sun was setting over Downtown Atlanta. Along the walk from the MARTA stop at State Farm Arena where Justin Bieber was performing, there was a shift in atmosphere. The banter of passersby, mostly teenaged girls dressed in bright hues of pink and yellow, faded into more world-weary and black-clad men and women migrating toward the thunderous roar of C.O.C.’s “Bottom Feeder (El que come abajo)” and “Paranoid Opioid” echoing off of nearby buildings and across Centennial Olympic Park.
Inside, the group tore through a set of middle-period C.O.C. crowd-pleasers, including “Vote With A Bullet,” “Wiseblood,” and “Clean My Wounds.” On stage, the group embodies the kind of wise intensity and earnest demeanor that only a band weaned in the original era of Southern punk and hardcore knows.
Melvins were massive on stage. No banter. No nonsense, aside from bass player Steven McDonald’s rock god maneuvers. He tests the limits of what’s acceptable, but why fight it? His on-stage swerving and reaching for the heavens adds excitement to the Melvins slow roar, and he backs it all up with a monster sound that’s tailor-made to boost singer and guitar player Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover’s surly dirges.
The Melvins are masters of evoking an ecstatic-molasses state — they create an ambiance that summons feelings that fall somewhere between confrontation and meditation. Their set was bookend by “The Kicking Machine” from Nude With Boots and “The Bit” Stag. In between, they drew out their trademark crawling, teeth-gnashing atmosphere with “Civilized Worm” from (A) Senile Animal along with “Hooch” and “Honey Bucket” from Houdini. They even tucked a cover of Redd Kross’ “Charlie” from the Born Innocent LP in there as well.
In terms of sheer power, Melvins delivered a demonic show that was a solid counterpart to Ministry’s on-stage spectacle.
Jourgensen took the stage with his bandmates — guitar players Cesar Soto and Monte Pittman, bass player Paul D’Amour, drummer Roy Mayorga, and keyboard player John Bechdel — to a glowing backdrop of “Ministry Stands With Ukraine.”
The show began with a parade of hits. “Breathe,” “The Missing,” “Deity,” and “Stigmata” — a set list pulled pretty much straight out of In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up, the live VHS tape that so many of us wore out in high school. They even brought the chain link fence back to the stage.
From there, it was the dream-come-true setlist that so many of Ministry’s fans have always demanded. First came “Supernaut,” the Black Sabbath cover that Jourgensen delivered circa 1990 under the name 1,000 Homo DJs. Then came not one, but two Pailhead songs — “Don’t Stand In Line” and “Man Should Surrender” — from Trait, an EP on which he collaborated with Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi.
Jourgensen has surrounded himself with a coterie of top-notch players. Guitarist Monte Pittman has played in Madonna’s band for ages, and even taught her how to play guitar. The rest of the group’s collective resume covers everything from Killing Joke to Prong. They delivered seamless renditions “N.W.O.,” “Just One Fix,” “So What,” and “Thieves,” and, if anything, funked them up at an only slightly perceptible level.
Ministry’s long career is marked by extreme highs, and devastating missteps. Tales of Jourgensen’s drug-fueled debauchery and near-death experiences have not been exaggerated (just read his autobiography). Along the way, he’s released a few truly unlistenable records. Rare is the artist who can bounce back from that. Jourgensen has defied expectations in the years leading up to Moral Hygiene.
He closed the set with three numbers from the new record — “Alert Level” followed by a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy,” and “Good Trouble,” an ode to civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis. In the middle of the song he led the audience through a chant of “we want our country back,” which seemed to mirror a sense of getting Ministry back on track.
Revisionism aside, stepping back into the worlds created by Ministry’s The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, the songs of Pailhead, and so on, even if just for one night, was a refreshing and empowering reminder of just how truly brilliant Jourgensen can be. — Chad Radford
The print version of this review can be found in the April issue of Record Plug Magazine.
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