Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
In 1983, a two-man synth pop act from Chicago released their debut album. Twenty years and many line-up changes later, Ministry has placed an indelible boot print in the backside of alternative music, leaving their synth pop beginnings far, far behind. They've been tagged everything from industrial to death metal, and with three tribute albums since 1999, their influence goes far beyond any single genre. Always managing to stay well below the radar of classification, their music is never without consciousness, intelligence and their scathingly dark sense of humour. Having survived two decades of debauchery, Ministry are still proving that there is much more to be said, and they're just the guys to say it.
Ministry is formed by Al Jourgensen in Chicago, IL. Jourgensen began his musical involvement at the end of the ‘70s through DJing in Chicago and playing guitar in post-punk act Special Affect with Frank Nardiello (later of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult). Early punk bands like the Ramones are the true fuel of his creative fires. Punk's DIY, fuck you attitude strikes a chord with him and, despite Ministry's musical beginnings, plays a huge role in shaping later output. As a teenager, his future is ominously foreshadowed when he winds up in a hospital for drug abuse. According to Al, it was the easiest place of all to score.
On New Year's Eve, Ministry plays its first gig at Huey's night club in Chicago. The principle studio line-up is Jourgensen (vocals, guitar, programming) and Stephen George (percussion), with others accompanying them for shows. The "Cold Life" single is released on Wax Trax Records, beginning Jourgensen's long-time involvement with Chicago Trax, the WT recording studio. "It's not just a studio, it's a way of life" — words that would appear on the sleeve of 1989's The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste — couldn't sum it up better. The time spent and people he meets here become an integral part of all that is Ministry — both in and out of the studio. While producing Wax Trax act the Blackouts, Al meets member Paul Barker for the first time. Barker will later become the second half of the Ministry machine.
With Sympathy, essentially a new wave-inspired synth pop record with none of the angst and grit of later work, is released on Arista Records. Although a decent pop record, Al later claims it was a forced release from his new label, unrepresentative of his true voice or vision. It represents none of the severity and honesty of later material, exhibiting none of Al's passion for the guitar. It is the first and thankfully the last time the words "white boy funk" and Ministry could be used in the same sentence.
"The Nature of Love" and "All Day/Everyday is Halloween" singles are released on Wax Trax; the latter is embraced as the dance track du jour (and best known early single) for goth kids everywhere. This year also spawns the most prolific and best-known of the many Ministry-based side projects, the Revolting Cocks (aka RevCo). A who's who of industrial dance music and all around good-time guys, the faces in this project change with virtually every new release, but start out as a threesome of Jourgensen, Richard 23 (from Front 242) and Belgian industrial multi-instrumentalist and fellow Wax Traxer Luc Van Acker. Legend has it that while getting drunk and rowdy during a pool game, a bartender inadvertently names them by calling them a bunch of revolting cocks. More goofy and ironic than anything else, the Cocks show another side to a group of rock stars that too often get taken too seriously. Named after a chain of porno houses in Germany, RevCo‚s first LP Big Sexy Land showcases their uniquely strange senses of humour. RevCo also serves as a catalyst for the slightly heavier sound that Ministry begins exploring.
Twitch is released, and despite the contribution of several others, Jourgensen is listed as the band's sole member. In perhaps the most important moment of their musical evolution, Paul Barker joins Ministry as bassist and keyboardist. As a songwriting team, these two will have their literal highs and lows through the years, but ultimately remain the backbone of the band. As Al explains, "We work well together man. We are yin and yang. I'm Captain Kirk, he's Spock — he's like the science officer and I'm just like ‘go get the fuckin' Klingons!'" Jourgensen's continued drug use is garnering him a reputation for being irrational and at times unproductive — alternate periods of being sober or strung out make him a two-headed monster. Barker's more even temperament serves as a balance to keep them on track. Al also takes a more active role in the production and mixing duties of Ministry's work with the assistance of Adrian Sherwood.
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