Ministry - AmeriKKKant - (7.5/10)
Published on March 8, 2018
“We are making a fucking album – right now.”
It’s a promising or ominous scenario, depending on how you look at it. At one end, Donald Trump, the most (ahem) peculiar president of the USA in recent memory – a walking meme in fact, a caricature that embodies all the most grotesque elements you can think of when it comes to right-wing politics. And, on the other end, Al Jourgensen – the main-man on Ministry, one of the undisputed pioneers of industrial metal and an artist always keen on political commentary, to say the least. After the dramatic, on-stage death of Jourgensen’s long-time partner in crime Mike Scaccia in 2012, the future of Ministry was in doubt for a while – but the election of a (ahem) controversial figure such as Trump was too good a subject to be ignored, and Ministry’s disgust with the way things are going in America appears on every note of “AmeriKKKant”, the band’s timely 14th studio release. A record that is sure to divide people, a state of affairs Jourgensen and his cohorts are no strangers to.
Being subtle was never Ministry’s forte, and the album’s title is far from being the only display of the band’s in-your-face approach – you don’t need to go further than the video for “Antifa” to have conclusive evidence in front of your very eyes. You can take it as bold, uncompromising determination to make a point no matter what, or you can take it as, well, garbage and sheer lack of taste. That’s the two extremes people tend to align to when reacting to Ministry’s music and aesthetics. Personally speaking, I think that both arguments have something of a point: the mistake, if you don’t mind me saying so, is failing to acknowledge both sides of what Ministry was, is and seemingly forever shall be. Yeah, much of what Al Jourgensen does is garbage indeed, but it also takes a lot of guts to take a stance as fiercely as he does, never fearing the (sometimes truly tuneless and/or cringe worthy) consequences. Like it or not, being tongue-in-cheek is Ministry’s spirit and musical vision from day one, and if it sometimes bordered on unlistenable, it was also decisive for creating some truly stunning heavy music through the years. If you don’t get this, you simply don’t get Ministry, and any detractors / enthusiasts will be as biased as he (admitedly) is.
Now to “AmeriKKKant”. It’s something of a return to form, I guess: though the outfit’s music never ran out of anger, they haven’t sound this pissed off and gritty in years. They are not happy at all with America, and Ministry chooses to display such discomfort with scornful, euphemism-free lyricism and mostly mid-tempo, expansive, almost nauseatingly hypnotic instrumentation, quite reminiscent of the band’s “Filth Pig” days. After a three-minute long intro, entirely dedicated to ridicule Donald Trump’s lack of vocabulary (“I Know Words”), the first two proper songs on display (“Twilight Zone” and “Victims of a Clown”) are remarkably close to trance music territory, full of turntable work, repetitive pulses and so on. The samplings are all over the place, giving the songs a cinematic element that retains the listener’s attention, while also enhancing the overall feeling of anguish and ire. Guitars and bass come forth with nearly oppressive heaviness, and the fuzzy, raspy vocal delivery almost struggles to break through the wall of sound. “Twilight Zone”, in particular, is the song you need to hear if you want to know what the album is about: if you like it, then “AmeriKKKant” is for you. If you don’t, well, there won’t be much reason left for you to purchase a copy.
But there are some hard-hitting moments going on too. “We’re Tired of It” is perhaps the best of the lot, with all the electronica giving way to some seriously thrash-oriented riffing not too far away from Cavalera Conspiracy’s most recent delivery. Bizarre video renditions aside, “Antifa” is also pretty heavy, with tons of distortion and a catchy, straight-to-the-point chorus. Those who learned to enjoy Ministry by seeing “Just One Fix” or “N.W.O.” on MTV are very likely to dig these too. But I feel that, although not among the longer cuts of this record, “Wargasm” is the magnum opus around here: a filthy, sinister tune that brings together two of America’s main obsessions – sex and war. In Ministry’s depiction, death and destruction are a lubricious, sexually-arousing vision for those corrupted by power, and the vocal narrations of Burton C.Bell of Fear Factory fame are like the rant of someone masturbating to images of war, or pornography, or both. Yeah, it’s pretty disturbing, but truly amazing nonetheless, and a perfect picture of what I stated above: Ministry is as tongue-in-cheek as it gets, for good or bad. Oh, and the Killing Joke-style chorus is pretty cool too.
Ministry are authentic. Granted, you don’t necessarily need to like their music, but it’s rather pointless to not give them credit where is due. In “AmeriKKKant”, it doesn’t always work to great effect: I’m not at all impressed with the ultra-predictable guitar patterns of “Game Over”, for instance, and the omnipresent voice samples are truly overwhelming in places. The grinding, slow-moving drive of most songs is very likely to alienate those who prefer Ministry’s most recognizable, fast-paced insanity, and it must be made clear that there’s no groundbreaking ingenuity or outside-the-box songwriting here at all. But I’m well convinced that this album wasn’t really meant to please anyone: it’s in fact a statement, a wake-up-call if you like, and you’ll have a hard time finding any other acts questioning all sorts of authority as emphatically as Ministry does on this one.
In a time when freedoms seem to diminish by the hour, and most (not all, fortunately) metal/rock artists are either nonplussed or reluctant to find themselves in the receiving end of online aggressive criticism, it’s nice to see some strong points being made within the metal fraternity. It’s quite comfortable to sing about dragons or mythical battles from someone else’s imagination: you’ll hardly be pilloried, and you don’t need to take any major risks. But there are battles going on today as well, whether the metalheads like to talk about it or not. “But politics have no place in metal!”: oh yeah it does, it all started with an anti-war song named “War Pigs”, please. “AmeriKKKant” is not the best Ministry ever delivered, but it’s still pretty solid as a whole, and it’s good we still have Uncle Al around, if you ask me.