Early misfortune was also the catalyst that helped bring about the caustic and resolute vision that Ministry has delivered for nearly four decades.
It’s impossible to imagine Ministry as a glossy, mainstream synth-pop act. Band founder/leader Al Jourgensen is widely considered a pioneer of industrial metal, and Ministry is best known for its relentless cacophony of aggressive, politically charged sounds.
Yet, the group’s 1983 debut, With Sympathy, which features nine keyboard-driven tracks of almost danceable new wave, is a crucial part of the band’s unique history.
Thanks to a nightmarish and completely stifling experience while making the album, Jourgensen has long disavowed his association with it.
But that early misfortune was also the catalyst that helped bring about the caustic and resolute vision that Ministry has unapologetically delivered for nearly four decades.
New album AmeriKKKant, a denouncement of things like this country’s systemic racism, gun violence, and ever-widening political divide, puts an exclamation mark on it.
Released in March, Ministry’s 14th studio album is another pointed critique of society at large, one that the band sees as dangerously polarized.
And while America’s current executive branch is definitely at the epicenter of the band’s ire, they aren’t the only ones.
“It’s not all about (President) Trump,” said Jourgensen from his Los Angeles home. “It’s about us, too. We have to look in the mirror. This is what we could become if we’re not careful and think things through. It’s asking more questions than giving answers, but I think these questions need to be asked.”
Confronting a dystopian landscape is nothing new for the band. It’s actually part of Ministry’s inherent methodology. But as of just a few years ago, it seemed that the six-time Grammy nominees were done with fighting the powers that be.
Following the late-2012 death of longtime Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia, Jourgensen announced that the album they were working on when he died, 2013’s From Beer To Eternity, would be the band’s last.
Coupled with the bandleader’s then-serious health issues, it seemed likely the proclamation would stick.
“I was dead,” Jourgensen said. “I literally flatlined. And that was the third time. The first two were from ODs. The last was from a ruptured artery due to an ulcer. I didn’t understand why I was bleeding all the time for two or three years. It was almost a pint a day. Between that and my best friend of 30 years dying, it didn’t seem right to keep going.”
But after multiple surgeries, Jourgensen’s health steadily improved, and so did his desire to get back to making music.
In 2016, he released the self-titled debut of Surgical Meth Machine, a project and album by the same name dedicated to Scaccia. But after election night that same year, Jourgensen decided to try again with Ministry.
Unlike previous efforts, AmeriKKKant is a 48-minute, cohesive narrative. While not exactly a concept album, it also doesn’t just rubberstamp the typical Ministry blueprint.
Over tracks with titles like Antifa, Wargasm, We’re Tired of It, and Victims of a Clown, the band’s long-established programming and fractured guitar riffs are paired with things like DJ Swamp on turntables and scratching from founding N.W.A. member Arabian Prince.
It also features string arrangements from “Lord of the Cello” Marston Smith, who Jourgensen first saw busking at a flea market in Pasadena.
“It struck me as something akin to Nero fiddling as Rome burned.”
But at this point in the 60-year-old songwriter’s life, the message of the new album isn’t nearly as important as what someone might do with it.
“You can look at me as the Chicken Little of the industrial scene,” said Jourgensen with a laugh. “I’m always crying that the sky is falling. But I do see the glass as half-full. We sing about these things in hopes that it gets people motivated. It’s all about participation, fighting off apathy, and making democracy work. It’s unfortunate, but that’s still a relevant thing.”
And the musician is doing more than just talking about it. In 2008, Ministry registered 50,000 people to vote and the band has taken the nonprofit group HeadCount with them on many of the AmeriKKKant tour dates this year.
Jourgensen is so dedicated to the message that despite 2018 marking the 30th anniversary of seminal Ministry album The Land of Rape and Honey, the current tour features the band playing AmeriKKKant — complete with an accompanying visual backdrop — in its entirety.
After an intermission, the band does return to honor the milestone, as well as play a few other favorites, but for Jourgensen, it’s all about the chance to inspire change.
“We’re still plugged in and preaching along,” he said. “And it is kind of depressing that after 30 years of ranting about this stuff, we’re still in the same place. But if one person in this apathetic sinkhole of a society we live in gets it, then it’s all worth it.”
When: 7:15 p.m. Dec. 18
Where: House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Ave., downtown