Review Summary: Not exactly a comeback, and not really that great either.Relapse
has been widely hyped as Ministry's revival after four or five years of retirement, an angle that I consider a bit revisionist. Al Jourgensen and Mike Scaccia already reunited as Ministry and hit the studio for Every Day Is Halloween: Greatest Tricks
, which came out on Cleopatra Records in late 2010. Then, mere months later and without explanation, Jourgensen's own 13th Planet imprint retooled and repackaged that album as Undercover
by Ministry and Co-Conspirators. Is it that an album of newly recorded classics and covers shouldn't count as a studio album? Is "Ministry and Co-Conspirators" technically a side project? As a guy sampled by Ministry once said, "This story does not add up!"
The ambiguity over which album directly precedes Relapse
in the Ministry canon is a point that I bring up to frame the new album's identity crisis. Sometimes, Relapse
successfully builds on the classic hard rock influences of Cover Up
by incorporating that sound into Ministry originals: the triumphant opening guitar buildup of "Ghouldiggers" recalls Ministry's recent cover of "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC
, and the closing song "Bloodlust" melds mechanical programmed beats with old-fashioned blues rock in a welcome experiment that doesn't sound quite like anything Ministry has done before. Jourgensen's lyrics on Relapse
have been criticized for being simplistic and stupid, and most of the time they honestly are (Typical offender: "Well I love life to death/But I also love crystal meth/Those two don't usually get along/And a lot of people think that's wrong"). But perhaps subtlety and wit are not everything for all music, and Ministry's attitude of wasted old rock star belligerence and reckless not-giving-a-f*** is reflected well enough in the songs they wrote. While I won't say this is my favourite direction Ministry has taken over the years, after letting go of any expectations I have warmed up to it and enjoy it for what it is. The Sammy D'Ambruoso-fronted "Weekend Warrior" arguably should have been saved for a side project, but as epic, psychotic heavy rock party anthems go, it's a hilariously awesome song.
On the other hand, Relapse
is also Ministry's first album to feature completely new songs since the "Bush Trilogy" culminated in 2007's The Last Sucker
, and also marks Ministry's return to the heavily political, sample-laden thrash metal style of that era. As fast and heavy as this style may be, there's an inescapable sense of diminishing returns and deja vu
, as I keep wondering where Ministry has used that particular riff or that particular sound before. Ironically, it's the would-be dangerous songs like the Rio Grande Blood
-esque "Double Tap" that feel most like Ministry is playing it safe. Relapse
samples plenty of people talking, but rather than being used in any real subversive or creative way, they often merely parrot the sentiment of the lyrics. The gratuitous use of non-sampled spoken parts also causes me to wonder if Ministry, while aping their own formula, has lost the artistic point of sampling beyond "metal with clips of talking sounds cool, right?"
Perhaps where Relapse
fails most is in Ministry's fumbling attempt to remain an angry political band. With a Democrat in the White House, Jourgensen's lyrics are less universally anti-establishment than on previous albums: a song penned by Al's wife Angie encourages listeners to "Git Up Get Out N' Vote"... to re-elect America's incumbent president, I suppose! Yeah! Hey, didn't this band used to have an anarchy symbol in its logo? "Double Tap" references the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden by the US military, but aside from that it isn't clear that Jourgensen really has anything to say on the topic, and if this is simply an anti-bin Laden song I am confused at why they would consider it necessary (in 2012, no less!). Keep in mind that I'm not necessarily critical of Jourgensen's current political positions, merely their suitability to make exciting Ministry songs. Sadly, regardless of how much credit you give conspiracy theories, "We always knew Pakistan was where he'd be found" makes for an objectively much less badass rock lyric than "Some say he's living at the Khyber Pass/Other say he's at the Bushes' ranch." To be fair, Ministry does still express outrage at greedy banks and corporations, but even the upbeat "99 Percenters" feels naïvely optimistic and dated now with many Occupy camps evicted by the time the album came out. Jourgensen's blame-the-one-percenters approach is also undermined when elsewhere on the album, he admits to personally blowing 10 million dollars on drugs!
For a supposed comeback, Relapse
is lacking a clear vision of what Ministry wants to be about in 2012. The album's varied musical and lyrical themes clash uncomfortably at times, while what new ideas do exist are at risk of suffocation beneath the urge to rehash. There are enjoyable songs, especially allowing a guilty pleasure perspective, but they fall short of working together as a satisfying whole. It's especially disappointing to compare this album to the recent Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters
debut, which involved some of the same members but was more unified in character and much more adventurous musically. Top it all off with one of the least appealing cover images in Ministry's long career, and Relapse
is one awkwardly sub-average release.