Ministry – Psalm 69 (1993)
Ministry, at least in their guises that I listen to, has a serious consistency problem tempered by their ability to consistently put their best tracks at the beginning of their albums. It happened with “The Missing”, it happened with “Burning Inside”, and it happened with “War Pimp Renaissance” (which is technically by Lard, but that band is basically Ministry with Jello Biafra on vocals) some years after this. Their discography is one of the main reasons I don’t put number scores on these reviews – I mean, how do you take the existence of a few especially strong tracks in a sea of disposables and express it as a single number? Psalm 69, on the other hand, is shockingly consistent in its songwriting and importantly does not fall apart after a few hit singles. I’m not complaining, but what the hell happened?
First, I know that Psalm 69 is rather amped up compared to its predecessors; the rumor is that like some of their contemporaries (NIN in particular), Ministry toughened up their sound for their live shows, which eventually bled over to the studio. The actual songwriting hasn’t changed from its immediate predecessors – Ministry still relies heavily on texture, repetition, and samples to drive their songs. Still, as a work of industrial metal, this understandably benefits from its heavy, artificial sound, and it’s definitely an improvement over the hodgepodge of mixing styles of Ministry’s 1980s output. It might seem childishly obvious, but when you rely on your aesthetics like Ministry does, having a strong unified sound sure comes in handy.
Psalm 69 is also probably less varied than its predecessors, dropping out of its strong industrial metal voice rather less often, even if by doing so it creates more opportunities to explore that genre’s substyles. Perhaps the best example of this is “Scarecrow”, a torturous, groaning colossus of 8 minutes that traces out something new and especially harsh in Ministry’s language (and presumably either does or does not point the way forwards towards the doomier ’90s for this band). It’s still recognizably built from the guitar loops, distorted vocals, and samples that drive most of the other tracks here, and that reveals what, for Ministry, seems to have been a huge advance – Ministry is now able to incorporate the ideas they wish to experiment with into a more consistent whole, although the strength of execution is more important than the specifics of their sound. Either way, it’s a major execution boost and I am willing to pin the relative lack of filler on it.
This suggests that if you were to only listen to one Ministry album (and thus deny yourself the sweep of their storied history), you would do best to make it this one.
Highlights: “NWO”, “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, “Scarecrow”