If you’re going to have a discussion about industrial music, failing to mention Ministry would be a genuine offense. The music that Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker made in their prime is some of the most significant in the genre. However, following the 2004 departure of Barker, Uncle Al’s musical mind has not been all that noteworthy. Between Al’s trilogy of anti-Bush monotony and subsequent substance-inspired messes, it’s been difficult to ensure faith in a quality Ministry recording for over a decade. Jourgensen claimed Ministry’s last release, 2013’s From Beer To Eternity, would be the band’s final offering since the death of guitarist Mike Scaccia. It was easily the band’s most disjointed and uncreative record to date, but it seems that something finally inspired Al to try something new with his latest project, Surgical Meth Machine.
The original intent for this album was to be Al’s fastest yet. In tribute to the aforementioned late Scaccia, the songs were to emulate ‘Side FX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV 4)’ off of FBTE. And, for a good chunk of this album, he certainly succeeded. Lead single ‘Tragic Alert’ is a blistering industrial-thrash monster, slightly reminiscent of the 1989 Ministry hit ‘Thieves.’ This trend continues on the songs ‘I Want More’ and ‘Smash And Grab’ two of the most enjoyably furious tracks that Al has penned in quite some time. Instrumentally, Surgical Meth Machine is refreshingly consistent, and every song flows together to make the album feel like one long, spastic concept piece.
While this album is musically exciting, a lot of songs here still fall completely flat on the lyrical end, which is something that Al has seemed to struggle with especially over the last few years. Album opener ‘I’m Sensitive’ finds Al in his often frustrated state, though it’s an instance where he’s throwing jabs at people on Facebook calling him out for being too sensitive, and tells them in a very adult-like manner that he “[doesn’t] fucking care.” It’s an incredibly loud and fast track that sets the musical tone for the album perfectly, but again, there’s absolutely nothing in the way of lyrical content. ‘I Don’t Wanna’ showcases Al’s first collaboration with ex-Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra since their Lard project in the ‘90s. “I don’t wanna be a rock star, I just wanna get paid, I wanna be a beer ad” is a message that isn’t particularly new or meaningful, and it’s sad to see Jello bringing almost nothing redeeming to this song. ‘Rich People Problems’ is another complete fault in the track listing here, where Al wishes that his only issues included “[missing] the regatta.” Most of the issues Al has in real life seem to be mostly self-inflicted though, and this song isn’t convincing me that he’s doing any better.
Surgical Meth Machine’s latter half is where things start to derive from the industrial onslaught that the first half brought, but not until after the song ‘Unlistenable,’ which is easy the album’s most disorientating moment. The instrumental is technologically schizophrenic, in a similar vein to a band like Atari Teenage Riot, and Al is complaining once again, this time about newer popular bands that Al deems “unlistenable” and “shit, feces,” etcetera. The song takes a very insane turn in the second portion where Al impersonates a conversation with someone about different bands that he thinks are terrible, ranging from metal heavyweights to Iron Maiden and Megadeth, to Nickelback because they’re “a band that everyone loves to hate,” to The Cure, to even Ministry themselves, and Al claims that he “[hates] all fucking industrial bands.” The song is entertaining purely as a spectacle, and the one band that Al finally supports in the end is Deco, leading into a cover of ‘Gates Of Steel’ which is one of the best things the album has to offer. It’s a fairly straight interpretation, just with Al’s trademark speed-industrial flair, and sounds like it could have been conceived during the time when Ministry was working on their cover albums with Co-Conspirators.
From here on out, the album becomes truly strange and is the most experimental work that Al has put together since 1996’s Filth Pig. The four-track section of ‘Gates Of Steel,’ ‘Spudnik,’ ‘Just Go Home’ and ‘Just Keep Going’ act as one electro-industrial suite of sorts, that foes through movements, ups, downs, rises and falls. All of these songs lead up to the other weirdest song on the album, closing track ‘I’m Invisible.’ It feels like the first time Al has utilized clean vocals since Ministry’s 1986 sophomore album Twitch, and the instrumental is like a mix between trance and cloud rap. Al’s lyrics here are once again nothing extraordinary, but they’re not distractingly bad either. More or less, they’re acceptably simple.
Surgical Meth Machine is easy Uncle Al’s most creative and musically interesting album since the late ‘90s Ministry material, but he still seems to be stuck in a state where he thinks that any words he sings will be something that people will care about. Still, it’s incredibly exciting to hear Al actually trying to make something new with this project, and hopefully he continues to experiment more in the future.
Written by L. Mounts