When a band you've loved for years heads off into left field, and not in a good way, it's almost like watching a relative succumb to disease through sheer inaction or fall prey to an avoidable addiction. And when you decide not
to buy that band's newest album, it feels like a form of tough love, like you're staging an intervention by hanging onto your fifteen bucks.
No one was sadder than I was when Ministry began their protracted nose-dive into grindcore irrelevance. Back in the early eighties, Al Jourgensen and his extended Wax Trax! family of nutters and Belgians steered my musical tastes in directions I might never have chosen on my own. I have a sizable chunk of music shelf-space devoted to Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Jourgensen's side projects and protegés, Paul Barker's stuff (that Blackouts EP must be worth something by now) and bands Al recommended (Laibach in particular). Too bad Filth Pig and Jourgensen's problems with heroin took the whole experience into the shitter. We all know that bands never recover from crap like that.
Or do they?
Last year's Animositisomina hinted at a reconstituted, re-dedicated Ministry, but it seemed like too little, too late. Apparently not. Houses of the Molé turns the clock back almost fifteen years, returning the group to the fertile period between The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69. The players may be different, but these guys sound like they recorded "Jesus Built My Hotrod" last week; if I didn't know better, I'd say that Jourgensen put Houses to tape in '91 and buried the masters in a time capsule in his back yard. The buzzsaw riffs, bloody-raw vocals and jackhammer drumming that quickened my pulse back then still sound fresh today, a testament to the group's enduring legacy.
Some of that relevance involves the convergence of technology and politics. Back in the eighties, when 128MB of RAM cost as much as a small car and ProTools-style editing was just a twinkle in Tommy Mottola's eye, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush were fair game -- and cutting up their sound bites was a fitting use for the emerging sampler technology. The practice fell out of favor right around the time Clinton became President: Bubba rarely said anything succinct enough to sample, and creative musicians found other uses for the increasingly sophisticated gear. Now, Bush-sampling is back in vogue; it seems that everyone wants to restructure Dubya's semi-literate ramblings for maximum irony value. That's why I felt a thrill of familiarity when I heard GWB's duplicitous catch-phrases layered over the "Carmina Burana"-sampling "No 'W'". We're treated to an assortment of twisted presidential catch phrases ("we're fighting evil!"), paired with lyrics like "Ask me why you're feeling screwed / and I'll give you the answer / There's a Colon (sic) Dick and Bush / Just hammerin' away." Hey, I never said it was intelligent or elegant political commentary... but it's a damn sight better than half-hearted sludgecore. If there's one good thing about our current political situation, it's that Bush and his war have reawakened the seething, focused anger in an entire generation of musicians, inspiring many to do their best work in years.
Every song on Houses of the Molé, except for one bonus track, is a "W" song (that is, its title begins with or contains a "W"). Most of them are bleak, blunt indictments of faith, humanity and modern life, but a few dig deeper. "Wrong" again points the finger in an obvious direction: "What makes you think you've got a god given right / for killing people in a needless fight / You're like a rapist with a target in sight / Democracy." The relatively sedate "World" advocates action: "The time is right for revision / the time is right for revolution today / this is a world in sedition / this is a world that hasn't found its way." In "Worm", we hear a recording of a crisis-line caller driven to suicide by modern life, but Jourgensen would clearly prefer that we go down fighting.
Dubya isn't the only target of Al's ire; "WTV" focuses its note-shredding, machine-gun-paced, digitally-stuttered ferocity at one of Jourgensen's favorite topics, television as narcotic, packing the churning tune full of audio snippets. You'll hear everything from infomercials and political speeches to network affiliate bumpers and dramatic dialog; listen for the distinctive Law and Order "sting" in the midst of it all.
Obviously, this isn't MENSA-quality criticism, but it's as enlightened and as interesting as Ministry has been in years -- and another reminder that sometimes the key to fostering great art is keeping artists angry. I turned my back on Ministry, and expected to keep it turned, barring occasional wistful spins of Twitch and dutiful seasonal airings of "Every Day is Halloween", but Houses of the Molé has restored much of my faith. If you want clarity, simplicity and brutality, look no further.