Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’

Christopher Nosnibor

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Jo Quail: the two occasions I’ve seen her this year as an opening act, she’s been on not only early doors, but within minutes of doors opening. So I’m standing outside, in the rain, hearing the strains of her opening piece and feeling frustrated: the doors, set for 7:30, don’t open until 7:40, but Jo, scheduled for 7:40, starts on time. Still, the fact there’s a substantial queue before doors, and that people have packed to the front immediately on arrival is validation, if validation is needed.

She’s no ordinary cellist, utilizing a vast bank of pedals to conjure pulsing rhythms and a grinding undercurrent which flows fluidly as she builds layer upon layer to form cathedrals of sound – appropriate for a venue which a former church, now restored as a venue, and which boasts some of the most magnificent architecture. Her music is immense and powerful, the experience intense, moving, as the compositions transition between graceful and forceful, and Jo channels the range through her posture, at one with the instrument. The third and final piece, taken from her forthcoming LP opens with thunderous explosions and eerie, haunting shrillness, cultivating a dark, industrial atmosphere. And she certainly knows how to build a sustained crescendo: by the end of her set, I feel like I’ve emerged, battered but triumphant, from a tempest, and the respectable audience show real appreciation for an impressive set.

Jo Quail

Jo Quail

Rewind: while queueing in the rain, some irritatingly superior bozos behind me prate on about this and that. One remarks how the support has a forgettable, generic “adjective, something, something, noun’ name. He checks the event on Facebook on his phone, before trilling ‘A Storm of Light…. Yeah, adjective, something noun…” I turn and point out that ‘storm’ is also a noun, and that the new album’s really good. The smug cret thanks me dismissively and returns to babbling about cake at work and the like. I turn back to wait in silence, alone, and I’m fine with it, not least of all because A Storm of Light more than compensate the cold, damp discomfort of the queue.

With relentless, ever-shifting streams from CCTV intercut with cascading pills and the like projected behind the stage, ASOL play in near darkness and they play hard. Cranking out gritty industrial-tinged, grunge-hued post-punk with a dark, metallic sheen seems most incongruous in the setting, particularly given the nihilistic sociopolitical leanings of the lyrics. But we’re on deconsecrated, renovated ground here, and as much as I’m struck by the contextual juxtaposition, I’m struck by the clarity of the sound, particularly the drums, which cut through and pack a serious punch.

lA Storm of Light

A Storm of Light

Veering between claustrophobically taut frameworks and more organic, Neurosis-like expanses, the band create a sonic space that’s very much their own. And throughout the set, the basis lunges, hard, building in intensity as the set progresses: near the end, his instrument is pretty much scraping the floor, and he steps in front of the monitors to deliver some of the most savagely attacking bass playing you’re likely to witness. Not so much a strong performance as an act of total devastation.

Mono are considerably less abrasive, and I some ways, feel like a little bit of a step down. They sit down to play, for a start. It makes for a mellow atmosphere, but renders them invisible to anyone not in the first few rows, for a start.

Mono

Mono

Unable to get decent sight of the band, I make my way to the back, where the sound is magnificent. I can’t see anything other than smoke and strobes, but it’s ok: Mono aren’t a band to watch, even with the addition of vocals to their arsenal: they’re a band to get lot in. and that, I do. I find myself slowly drifting in the enormity of the experience: the sound, the atmosphere, the space, all contrive to create an immersive experience.

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Consouling Sounds – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been five years since A Storm of Light graced us with Nation To Flames, released via Southern Lord. Anthroscene has a very different mood, and isn’t exactly a Southern Lord type of album. It’s still very much a metal album at heart, and still has the sharp, snarling throb of latter-day Ministry at its molten core – but on this outing, they’ve opened things up a way – without losing any of the fire.

Josh Graham’s take on the album is that “Anthroscene ignores genre and freely combines a lot of our early influences. Christian Death, The Cure, Discharge, Lard, Fugazi, Big Black, Ministry, Pailhead, Melvins, Pink Floyd, Killing Joke, NIN, Tool, etc. Where Nations to Flames was a very a focused sonic assault, this record has more time to breathe, yet still keeps the intensity intact. We allowed the songs to venture into new territory and push our personal boundaries. It’s heavy and intense, but always focuses on interwoven melodies, song structure and dynamic.”

It’s a slow build by way of a start: the six-minute-trudger that is ‘Prime Time’ is constructed around a stocky riff, choppy, chunky. The guitar overdriven and compressed, chops out a sound reminiscent of post-millennial Killing Joke. The vocals are more metal, and then it breaks into a descending powerchord sequence that’s more grunge. The overall feel, then, is very much late 90s and into the first decade of the noughties, and lyrically, we’re very much in the socio-political terrain of Killing Joke. Indeed, the shift in focus is as much about the album’s heart as its soul, as ASOL turn to face the world in all its madness and corruption and pick through the pieces of this fucked-up, impossible mess. It’s practically impossible not to be angry; it’s practically impossible not to feel angry, defeated.

‘Blackout’ grinds in with some big chuggage, and ‘Life Will be Violent’ is remarkably expansive as it howls through a barrage of percussion that blasts like heavy artillery for eight and a half minutes. There are no short songs here: Anthroscene is the post-millennial cousin of Killing Joke’s Pandemonium. Only, whereas Pandemonium was pitched as prophetic and prescient, Anthroscene is clawing its way through the wreckage that is the future now present. Yes, the damage is done, and we’re standing, looking into the rubble as the dust drifts across a barren wasteland. But we’re too busy on social media and with faces buried in smartphones and tablets to even contemplate what we’ve done, and our children, heading inexorably toward an existence bereft of meaning as they too bury their faces in smartphones and tablets and Netflix on the 50” flatscreen, have no idea.

But this is no by-numbers template-based regurgitation: Anthroscene is sincere, and original. The squalling guitars of ‘Short Term Feedback’ sizzle and squirm over a barrage of drums and throat-ripping vocals as A Storm of Light revisit industrial metal territory, tugging at Ministry and early Pitch Shifter by way of touchstones. Elsewhere, the lugubrious ‘Slow Motion Apocalypse’ fulfils the promise of the title, but perhaps with more emotional resonance than you might expect.

Anthroscene is harsh, but evokes steely industrial greyness in its dense, claustrophobic atmosphere. A challenging album for challenging times.

AA

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Metropolis Records – 13th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve lost count of how many bands and songs I’ve encountered that reference ‘dream machine.’ The first was perhaps back in maybe 1992, aged seventeen, on purchasing Scenes from the Second Story by The God Machine. Although I had read Naked Lunch, Junky, and Queer (which was the limit of William Burroughs material available in my local Waterstones), I had yet to discover the weirder and more wonderful, experimental side of Burroughs, let alone his accomplice Brion Gysin, who was as responsible for the advent of the cut-ups as Burroughs himself. It was electronics technician, computer programmer, and peripheral Beat Generation associate, Ian Sommerville who invented the stroboscopic device know as the Dream Machine in 1960. I do sometimes wonder how many of those references to Dream Machines are aware of its origin and history, but given Burroughs’ popularity in industrial / related circles, the chances are probably fairly high. Which then leads to the question – just how much is this about trip, and how much about hip?

Inertia have been kicking out technoindustrial tunage for almost two and a half decades now. Over that time, they’ve acquired a respectable fanbase and released a slew of albums. As is always the case with the ‘goth’ scene, it’s all happened more or less invisibly, underground, and internationally rather than domestically.

Dream Machine is very much an album which follows established templates: insistent, bubbling synths heave and grind over thumping sequenced beats with a toppy edge and hard dancefloor edge. It’s solid, and it has tunes. It’s got the right balance of attack and melody, edge and groove. In fact, it’s pretty much back-to-back tracks you could get down to on the dancefloor at a goth night, and steel toe caps would be recommended.

The drum pattern at the start of ‘Only Law’ is a near-lift of the intro to ‘Burn’ by The Sisters of Mercy, before it all goes Music for the Masses Depeche Mode. It’s not just the insistent synths and jittery sequenced bass, or the hard-edged beats, but the soulful, melodic, backing vocals. Elsewhere, ‘Thorns’ goes Ministry circa Twitch. But for the most part, as is so often the case with longstanding technoindustrial acts, I hear Depeche Mode, with a dash of early Nine Inch Nails. I’m by no means averse to the sound, the style, or the influences: in fact, I’m a huge fan of both DM and NIN and have more Wax Trax! 12” than I could play in a week.

So where’s the beef? It’s all a bit samey. I feel like I’ve been listening to the same hardfloor techno-driven industrial-strength electro grooves for more than twenty-five years. Cybergoth, Darkwave, EBM, Aggrotech, Industrial Dance Music… the terminologies matter not. Some came, some went, but musically, it’s much of a muchness and I’m not up for debating the semantics of microgenre aesthetics.

Dream Machine is ok. It’s got some decent tunes. And it sounds like countess albums I’ve heard before.

AAA

Intertia - Dream Machine

AnalogueTrash – 17th March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

First impressions matter. The opening seconds of ‘Beware of the Gods’, the first track on The Last Punks on Earth remind me of ‘Corrosion’ by Ministry. As such, my attention is well and truly grabbed, even before the album breaks. And when it does break, it’s a shouty, snotty, snarling drum-machine driven punk racket reminiscent of early Revolting Cocks that comes hammering from the speakers. Combining gritty, overdriven guitars and pounding, insistent mechanised beats with aggressive vocals and surging electronic noise and grinding synths, it’s not pretty.

‘We Are Freaks in the Sky’ has that classic Wax Trax! sound all over it, while ‘Sarah’s Song’ is an exemplar of the full-tilt industrialised Eurodisco of the late 80s and early 90s. KMFDM is a fair reference point for the driving, danceable technoindustrial nihilism that defines The Last Punks on Earth.

There’s little to no respite over the course of the album’s ten tracks, which offer up a savage and bleak postapocalyptic cultural worldview. Ok, so the name might evoke the blank postmodern irony of Nathan Barley, as might the band’s image and sound, but their brutal genre-clashing noise is exactly the music that these fucked-up times demand. The darkest dystopian fictions have become our reality, and on The Last Punks on Earth Syd.31 capture the zeitgeist with a violence, venom and vitality that’s pure and compelling.

Syd.31

Cleopatra Records – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Why? Why, Al, Why? I ask as a huge ministry fan, and also as someone who has a lot of respect and admiration for what Cleopatra Records do. I practically wore the magnetism off my copy of Christian Death’s Decomposition of Violets album in my teens. I’m not averse to dredging through the archives and giving long hours to the appreciation of murky live recordings from the early 80s, either: my copy of The Cure’s Concert and Curiosity was played until it stretched, and the number of Sisters of Mercy bootlegs, many of quite dubious quality, that I played to death and still own is testament to my obsessive bent and borderline insanity.

This release is undoubtedly of historical interest. But given Al Jourgensen’s (rightful) disavowal of the early Ministry releases, this feels like a shameful barrel-scraping exercise. It’s pretty much unanimously accepted as fact that Ministry only started to become worthwhile with Twitch.

The first four tracks which occupy side one of the double album were recorded live in Detroit in 1982. With some reedy lead synths, dry bass synths and chorused guitars, they sound like A Flock of Seagulls. Only not as polished. With a shouty, punk vocal and drum style, it’s a pretty ragged affair, the sneering, snarling Johnny Rotten style vocals echo into the abyss while the synths are almost buried at times. Even overlooking the mix – the recording quality isn’t that bad – it still all sounds pretty naff – although the material is, on balance, better than anything on With Sympathy. In context, it makes sense: Jourgensen penned much of the material which went onto Twitch and was already working on edgier sounding material before the release of With Sympathy in 1983, but the record label weren’t interested. Still, ‘Love Change’ sounds like The Human League covering ‘Funky Down’. Edgy it isn’t.

The ’82 and ’83 demos are unadulterated synthpop tunes and are very much of their era. ‘Game is Over’ casts some shades of grey with hints of Killing Joke and The Cure, but then, it’s perhaps easy to forget that the tone of much commercial rock and pop was darker than we’re accustomed to now: even acts like Howard Jones and Mr Mister had a certain dark streak to their music and lyrics. Ah, different times. ‘Let’s Be Happy’ is a bouncy goth disco track. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with the band Ministry would subsequently become, and the less said about ‘Wait’ the better.

‘I See Red’ sounds more like Twitch: built around a thumping EBM groove, heavy electro percussion and processed vocals. Likewise, the heavily percussive, bass-driven ‘Self-Annoyed’ represents the sound of Wax Trax! in the mid to late 80s, and is immediately more recognisable as Ministry/related.

And while this is billed as a Ministry release, the myriad offshoots and side projects have produced some corking tunes through the years, so to find some of them represented here is actually a cause for celebration. That said, it’s not hard to appreciate why the unreleased Revolting Cocks cut, ‘Fish in Cold Water, failed to see the light of day before now. It may pack the sleazy disco grind of their Bigsexyland era material, but comes on like a mad mash-up of Talking Heads, U2, Bowie, and Harold Faltermeyer. ‘Drums Along the Carbide’ is way better. But then, you already know it, as a different version featured on the debut album under the title ‘Union Carbide’. Still calling to mind the attack of ‘Beers, Steers and Queers’, the battering-ram drums and scraping feedback providing a welcome cranial cleanse.

Dub versions of ‘Supernaut’ (released as 1,000 Homo DJs) and the Pailhead track ‘Don’t Stand in Line’ feel like too much filler however awesomely full-on the drum sound is, and the ‘banned version’ of ‘(Let’s Get) Physical’ doesn’t sound any different, and it would take a fair bit of time with an ear twisted to the vocals to determine any differences or the reason why it was banned.

The PTP track, ‘Show Me Your Spine’ is disappointing: it’s got a good beat, but isn’t a patch on the monotone psychopathic technoid groove of ‘Rubber Glove Seduction’, and again, it’s apparent as to why it failed to make an official release at the time.

In all, it’s rather a mixed bag. The majority of the material has curiosity value, but this is very much one for the fans. Even then, I’d recommend sticking to the albums released during the band’s lifetime, including those of the various side-projects.

Ministry_-_Trax!_Rarities_(cover)

Blackened Recordings – 18th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a new Metallica album. You don’t need to be a superfan to know that this is a big deal. Much was made in the press in their approach to promotion for its predecessor, Death Magnetic, with no advance CDs or streams and music journalists being herded in to listen to the album but with a list of caveats and prohibitions, and while that was a full eight years ago, the same approach has been taken, with streams only being made available a mere two days ahead of release to minor-league press like myself (granted, I was given the opportunity to sign up for the listening event, but being minor-league and not residing in London, it wasn’t going to happen). Still, in this day and age, doing something different is what counts, and of course, it’s easier for acts the size of Radiohead, U2, and Metallica (and would it be wrong to mention Bowie at this juncture?) to go for inverse hype, either keeping the album under wraps or even slipping it out with zero warning because it’s going to sell by the truckload anyway, and there will always be royalty-paying radio airings of tracks and all of the other things that provide the main earnings for big-name artists after the release, and if it gets people talking, then job done.

Typing this review feels awkward. I’ve long vowed to avoid the mainstream and the major league, preferring to give coverage to acts no-ones heard of. Everyone has an opinion about the new album by U2, Radiohead, Metallica. What can I add to the general noise? And am I likely to pick it apart in the kind of depth the real fans want? Forums and fan sites chuntered a bucketload about the mixing and mastering of Death Magnetic. Going back an album further still, the virtual riots over the production, specifically the drum sound, on St. Anger still echo on. Personally, I prefer the tangy blue French cheese Saint Agur over any Metallica album, but I digress. It seems that everyone’s out for Metallica, but no-one really talks about the songs these days. I’ll come to the songs shortly, because however vociferously critics and self-professed fans alike bitch about the albums and the spoutings of the band members (or one in particular), none of the noise makes any real difference. Their albums sell by the truckload regardless. Their gigs still sell tickets by the truckload.

Like many, I was properly introduced to the band through their redefining eponymous ‘black’ album in 1991, although of course it’s easy to understand why many of their longstanding fans were pissed off by the new sound. They had betrayed their thrash roots, and were now a commercial proposition. But really, do I give enough of a shit to be ‘qualified’ in the eyes of the masses to dissect a new Metallica album? Perhaps it’s my lack of shit-giving which precisely qualifies me.

The come barrelling out of the blocks all guns blazing with the full-throttle call to arms of ‘Hardwired’: ‘we’re so fucked / shit outta luck / hardwired to self-destruct,’ Hetfield spits in the refrain. If the musical composition itself sounds like ‘Wherever I May Roam’ crossed with Psalm 69 era Ministry (‘Hero’ in particular), it at least sounds like they mean business. It’s also the album’s most concise cut, clocking in a more nine seconds over three minutes.

Following on from the max-impact opener, ‘Atlas, Rise!’ is chugging juggernaut of a song, showcasing a straight down the line metal sound and a suitably preposterous and overblown guitar break. It’s taut and tetchy, and it too sounds like Ministry circa Psalm 69 but with some characteristic latter-day Metallica licks thrown in, and the same is true of ‘Spit Out the Bone’ over on disc two. There’s almost a sense that they’re casting their eyes back to 1990 and thinking that perhaps, that was the point at which things went awry, artistically, at least, although this dissipates as the album progresses.

The hefty drumming drives the throbbing riffage of ‘Now That We’re Dead’ before it descends into post-Black Album Metallica by numbers, and everything I’d dreaded Hardwired would be. Look, it’s not that I’m anti-melody or dislike harmonies, but they can be a hindrance to the heaviness of a metal song, and Metallica are particularly guilty of working to a blueprint. Sure, it’s their own blueprint, but I’m not feeling the danger here.

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct may be a monstrous double album which contains almost two hours of music (that’s twelve tracks, the majority sitting in the six or seven minute region) but to berate Metallica for being overblown or indulgent is entirely redundant. No, the real issue here is that it simply doesn’t feel like an album eight years in the making. Compare it to, say, Swans’ last album, or Killing Joke’s latest. Bear with me on this: Killing Joke have something of a formula, and tend to hammer out tracks built around a single riff for around six minutes, but there’s nothing tired or sluggish about Pylon, and Swans’ The Glowing Man is about four hours long but is the work of a band pushing themselves into unknown territories, and beyond. These feel like immense vital albums: Hardwired does not. Ok, so they manage to churn out a waltz-time lunger in the form of the cheesily-titled ‘ManUNkind’ and it serves to bring variety to proceedings, and ‘Here Comes Revenge’ locks into a churning groove to pretty potent effect: you can get down to this. While there are some undeniably great moments – from the expansive play-out segment on ‘Halo on Fire’ and the heads-down riff of disc two opener ‘Confusion’ – there simply aren’t enough of them. But that isn’t to say that this isn’t a solid enough album.

It was but a few weeks ago that I passed something of a shrug in the direction of the latest Neurosis album, for which ’30 years in the making’ essentially translates as ’30 years refining a stylistic blueprint’, and Hardwired suffers from very much the same creative malaise. The band vary likely believe strongly in what they’re doing and have spent the last eight years perfecting the material and ensuring it sounds exactly the way they want it to, and y’know, that’s ok. It sounds good. The guitars and bass are solid and suitably dense. The drums sound fine, on my speakers, at least. I haven’t spent three weeks listening to it on a loop through headphones, admittedly, and this is very much a broad overview of the album.

Ultimately, it would be wrong to criticise an album for what it is not, and instead, the critical focus ought to be on what it is. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is a Metallica album. The first in a long time. A lot of people will love it; a lot will be enraged by it, for myriad reasons. But it sounds like a Metallica album and does what you’d expect a Metallica album to do. And that’s no bad thing. You want a Metallica album? You got one.

 

 

Metallica - Hardwired