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Source Material

Source Material: Ministry, Psalm 69

by Chuck Eddy

Source Material: Ministry, Psalm 69


What Figures on a Beach were to Detroit, what Book of Love were to Philly, what Information Society were (a few years later) to Minneapolis, Ministry were to Chicago -- at first, anyway. (Say, starting around 1983 or so.) That is to say, a rather fey and effete American Anglophile answer to synthesized early-MTV-era British haircut pop.

But then, everything changed. In 1986, Ministry hooked up with British dub genius Adrian Sherwood for an album called Twitch -- sort of a missing link to where they wound up, but also a sonic outlier in their catalog and maybe the most rhythmic thing they ever did. Then, two years later, with barbarian-come-lately mastermind Al Jourgensen seemingly inspired by certain big and black swine-fornicating post-hardcore outfits from the onetime Hog Butcher of the World, Ministry found both their metal and mettle.

The Land of Rape and Honey, from 1988, and 1989's more or less interchangeable The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste charted higher in the U.S. than Twitch (Nos. 164 and 163 compared to 194, respectively), if not as high as 1983's wimpy With Sympathy (No. 96), but unlike that debut, those records both eventually went gold. The real breakthrough, though -- for Ministry and for "industrial metal" in general -- was 1992's Psalm 69, aka KEΦAÎÎÎ (boy, that was fun to type!), which peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard 200. It sold a million copies (a first and last for the band) on the shoulders of two Top 20 alt-rock radio hits, the novelty-ish "Jesus Built My Hotrod" (featuring Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes) and the protest-ish "N.W.O." (ostensibly a blast at Bush the Elder). Ministry never really had another hit after that, unless 1995's middling dance-charter "The Fall" counts.

They also never made another particularly memorable album. In fact, there's a sense in which Psalm 69 itself reduced their mechanistic shock tactics and noise terrorism and pissed-off perversion, devoid of meaning in the first place, to over-considered self-parody. But this record did manage to open a door that kinder and gentler disciples like Nine Inch Nails (starting with Broken, two months later) and Marilyn Manson -- not to mention, uh, Stabbing Westward and Gravity Kills and Static X -- could sashay right through. So, while Psalm 69 didn't come close to inventing industrial metal (even for Ministry themselves), it was instrumental in popularizing the form. As for where this record got its own ideas, read on.