Oct 2021 15

Album: Moral Hygiene
Category: Industrial / Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 2021-10-01


MINISTRY is practically an institution unto itself, a band that has continued to garner controversy over the course of 40 years – derided by some as having lost the creative spark that once made the band a singular force in music, lauded by others for overcoming such adversity and remaining an integral critical voice against the ills of a collapsing society. 2018’s AmeriKKKant was something of a milestone for the band, with Al Jourgensen’s sharpened focus against the policies and behavior of the previous administration and its supporters, driven by some of the most instrumentally varied production in the band’s history, reminding many of the heyday of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Now, we are presented with Moral Hygiene, MINISTRY’s fifteenth studio effort, written and recorded during the twilight of the 45th president’s term and during the maelstrom of the COVID-19 pandemic… so, you can be sure that ol’ Uncle Al and his cohorts likely still had much to say about the current state of affairs. And this perhaps accounts for some of the disappoint of this album – it almost feels like low-hanging fruit, perhaps slightly too topical. But then again, the power and allure of MINISTRY and other similar acts like KMFDM and even System of a Down has stemmed from their screams when no one will dare to so much as whisper.

Like any good artist, MNISTRY doesn’t offer any answers or solutions, yet still asks the hard questions to allow the audience to figure things out. With the repetitions of “How concerned are you?” throughout the opening “Alert Level,” Jourgensen puts the listener on notice as the song grinds at a mid-tempo yet forceful thrust of Cesar Soto’s riffs and Roy Mayorga’s drums, compounded by some scratching by N.W.A.’s Arabian Prince; the song would almost be rallying call for action as Al chants “Let’s get ready,” only to end with “Ready to die,” giving it a much more nihilistic vibe that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Those critical of the speed metal predilections of MINISTRY during the last Republican-led administration will likely enjoy the more insistent and, at times, sludgy pace of Moral Hygiene, much more reminiscent of Filth Pig or Dark Side of the Spoon. Songs like “Good Trouble” with its shrill yet resonant harmonica, the desert wind grit of “Broken System” evoking the oil fields of the Middle East, and the rather eerie “We Shall Resist” with John Bechdel’s ominous electronics and Al’s dark rasp all tackle issues of police brutality, corrupt politicians, and the defiance of the oppressed in a much more bluesy and processional fashion. The same can be said of the cover of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” which retains the song’s catchiness, but is conspicuously sandwiched between the punchy grooves of “Disinformation” and “Believe Me” – both very pointedly taking jabs at the former president, the first one pitting a mélange of samples against machine gun riffs and beats, while the jangling acoustic guitar and orchestral strings in the chorus of the second is a tasteful addition that makes for a glistening post-punk ambience and stands out as one of the record’s finest moments. As well, longtime fans will delight in the appearance of Jello Biafra on “Sabotage is Sex,” his screams about life in the post-democracy and fighting the power with fear sure to appease those who long for a new Lard record, leaving “Death Toll” and the almost obligatory “TV Song” to conclude Moral Hygiene with more trademark MINISTRY – a funky bit of strident dub bass and breakbeats (oddly reminiscent of Björk’s “Army of Me”) in the first, and a seething onslaught of glitch-laden sample-heavy sensory overload in the last.

Although the shade of the former president has yet to be lifted, the rather copious use of samples pertaining to him do start to feel somewhat moot, at least to this writer; but again, this is forgivable given the timeframe in which the album was written and recorded, and the issues Jourgensen addresses in the lyrics of Moral Hygiene are sadly as timely as they were one, two, three, and now four decades ago. It must also be said that Michael Rozon’s production does help to give the record a fresh edge, along with the presence of guests like backing vocalist Liz Walton, guitarist Billy Morrison, David Ellefson, and the aforementioned Biafra and Arabian Prince.

Despite this, there isn’t much to distinguish itself from past efforts, making it yet another tongue-in-pierced-cheek notch on the belt of MINISTRY. Not that Al and company need to innovate much at this point, having effectively invented and influenced much of what is now de rigueur in modern metal and industrial/rock, and like on the preceding AmeriKKKant, the greater emphasis on electronics, samples, and melodic riffs is a welcome return to form for the band. Moreover, Moral Hygiene moves at a solid clip as Uncle Al continues to call for progressive ideals and justice for all. Put simply, the album’s greatest strength is simultaneously its greatest weakness – it’s MINISTRY – and do we really want it to be anything else? The polish is present, and the pleasure is there.
Track list:

  1. Alert Level
  2. Good Trouble
  3. Sabotage is Sex
  4. Disinformation
  5. Search and Destroy
  6. Believe Me
  7. Broken System
  8. We Shall Resist
  9. Death Toll
  10. TV Song [Right Around the Corner Mix]

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Nuclear Blast
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Colin Andrew MacDougall (VexationsandtheVile)

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