Al Jourgensen doesn’t seem to take writing music as seriously as he used to, and for medical reasons that can only be a good thing. At the end of the gruelling debacle that was Ministry’s “C-U-La-tour”, he was seriously ill, bleeding from as many places as you care to think of as the culmination of the stresses and excesses of the previous years touring were gruesomely expelled from his body though various sized ulcers. As soon as Jourgensen stopped expelling blood he was discharged from hospital and set to work on the “Buck Satan” project; a country music band consisting of Jourgensen, prime time Ministry guitarist Mikey Scaccia, Rick Neilsen from Cheap Trick, and Tony Campos from Static-X, and one that he had been talking about putting together for 28 years and had promised “the kids” he would do “before he died”. This moment of grand reflection almost prompted him to seal the coffin on Ministry – partly because it was taking up too much time amongst the various other musical activities he had going, but more importantly, it was actually the reason why he was puking up and pissing blood after every show – “I just thought it was part of being a rock musician”, he later said.
Now, the frontman has been “blood free” for nearly two years, and Relapse is Ministry’s first studio album since 2007’s Last Sucker. Relapse was largely put together during the writing process of Buck Satan & the 666 Shooters‘ first release – most of the tracks spawning originally from moments recorded just to pass the time between country music writing sessions. As the “anti-therapy therapy against the country music” recordings took place, Jourgensen and Scaccia discovered that the antithesis of playing banjos and harmonicas resulted in tracks that were the fastest and thrashiest that the pair of them had done in a long time.
A decent proportion of Relapse consists of mechanised speed metal. Drums are programmed to 64th note triplets, while Scaccia whips out one melodic thrash riff after another. However, it gets tiresome very quickly, and doesn’t sound very well thought out. In the past, Ministry albums had been labor-intensive, methodical affairs approached with a degree of perfectionism; this release, however, was dealt with just like most of the other side projects. “We just get drunk and jam and figure it out later”, according to Jourgensen. This haphazard and laid-back approach has, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a negative impact on the album. Much of it sounds too similar, too predictable, and some of it just sounds way too forced and clichéd. Tracks such as ‘Ghouldiggers’, ‘Double Tap’ and ‘Free Fall’ are indeed some of the more extreme moments of Ministry‘s discography, but the overall effect seems to diminish once you hear Scaccia churn out far too many similarly-structured riffs in the vein of some kind of tepid 80s thrash band. The title track ‘Relapse’ is one of the weakest, but you could also include ‘Kleptocracy’ and ‘United Forces’. They are uninspiring, and drift along in the background with half-hearted attempts at fist-pumping choruses thrown over a framework of mid-tempo industrial rock. Unless you are a hardened fan, after about midway through the album you are going to want to listen to something more satisfying.
Jourgensen can no longer rely on a dose of “Bush” bashing for lyrical inspiration, which he had done for three recent albums. There had been no particular agenda for many of Ministry’s albums, with the lyrics being shaped by topical events. The lyrics on Relapse are influenced not only from direct personal experiences, but from the Occupy Wall Street Movement (as on the track ’99 Percenters’), and the general sentiment “fuck the system and fuck the Republican candidates”. However, the delivery and content of the lyrics is not as sharp as those of yesteryear, and it’s almost as if the wind has been taken out of Jourgensen’s sails.
As a final note to the dwindling musical creativity of Ministry, Jourgensen avows; “No more man, I’m serious. I know you’ve heard this from me before but that was for health reasons, this one I’m healthy, I can’t do these kinds of intense albums anymore. I’d rather just jam and get drunk with a bunch of hill-billies”. Yet he still has plans for Relapse Redux, a remix album in the same suit as Rio Grande Dub. Maybe there isn’t an end to this saga.