Review Summary: Ministry's dark ages.
The late 90s were a tough period for Ministry, being plagued by several events that caused them to spiral down from one of the biggest acts in the world into relative obscurity. Their 1996 effort, Filth Pig
, was poorly received just because it wasn't Psalm 69
Part 2, the band dabbling in slower tempo, sludge metal and removing most of the industrial elements out of their way. After one of the most infamous tours, Sphinctour, Al Jourgensen & Co. had only one album to release through Warner Bros., before leaving the label. However, the band's heavy drug addiction started getting in the way of the recording sessions, affecting the input and the results as well. Before the release of the Dark Side Of The Spoon
tragedy struck when former guitarist William Tucker committed suicide. Also, the refusal of some retailers such as Kmart to stock the record in their stores because of the album cover, stood in the way of a wider exposure.
Unfortunately, those who expected Dark Side Of The Spoon
to be a return to form would be disappointed, as Ministry tried to expand their sound, adopting some jazz and even eastern influences without going back to their industrial roots. Moreover, the tracks don't have that impact they had in the past, with the band opting to delve mostly into moody, prolonged jams more than shorter, violent rants. The only exception is the pile-driving opener "Supermanic Soul" where the music sounds heavy enough to match Al's paranoid and confused lyrics (showing how altered his visions are and confirms the heroin references in the album's title). There are some other moments where the band feels as it might snap, such as the old-fashioned boogie shuffle "Step", but in the end the song fails to take off.
Nevertheless, the record isn't necessary a throwaway, as there are a couple of enjoyable tracks that pop up here and there. First one is "Bad Blood", the song which saved the record from being a total commercial failure. It garnered the band some exposure, being featured on the Matrix soundtrack and getting nominated for a Grammy award in 2000. The song is great, it has a powerful stomping rhythm, drawing influences from the industrial metal of Psalm 69
and Filth Pig
's noisy soundscapes. Another strong tune is the brooding dirge "Kaif"; with a heavily distorted bass rhythm provided by Paul Barker and some electronics touches, everything is down to the chorus "Where did the time go?" showing some nostalgia within the Ministry camp and emphasizes the confusion brought by alcohol and drug addiction. The song is very representative of the bleak atmosphere the record bears.
Sadly, the rest of the record sounds tired and lacks focus. Extended jams such as "Eureka Pile", "Nursing Home" or the instrumental "10/10" make use of Eastern influenced female vocals and jazzy saxophone, respectively, but the tunes themselves are flat and uninteresting. Ministry were never known for their melodic lines and when their usual "insanity" doesn't capture the atmosphere, all that's left is the basic foundation of raw metal riffs that are really blunt at times. Even Barker's vocal contribution, "Vex & Siolence" sounds detached and doesn't go anywhere.
For those who are curious and interested in the band's history, the lyrics provide some insight into the band's troubled minds at the time. However ironic lines like "I don't know who I am no more/I'm gonna get some help/Help me" or "I like to apologize to all my wonderful fans/For sticking by me through such troubled times/ I love all you so much/I wish I could take you all to the Betty Ford Clinic" sound (on "Step"), Al's habits took their toll on him, making him become like those helpless superstars looking to apologize their fans for their actions. As a long time drug addict, he made himself very clear it was his decision to continue taking drugs, but no matter how strong he seemed to be, he was overtaken by his habits ("All tears within me now are dormant or dead/My veins are bursting with a thirst that you cannot ignore" and most other lyrics on "Nursing Home", "Eureka Pile" or "Kaif"). 1989's hit "Burning Inside" (off The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste
) was centered around the same habits, but Jourgensen never felt more like a victim than he does on this record.
In the end, Dark Side Of The Spoon
falls short of expectations, but it marks a significant phase in Ministry's evolution and it must be taken as it is. It's easy to dismiss the record for being really boring, but given the troubles the band were facing it's a miracle this release saw the light of day in the first place. This is what makes the record have its own personality and feel, even if it doesn't offer many thrills. The dark, depressing lyrics are representative of the band's troubled second half of the 1990s and the music occasionally shines through the murky and sometimes poor production. It's easily one of the most challenging Ministry records, even at a 45 minute length and it's recommended mostly for long time fans, who will enjoy most Dark Side Of The Spoon