Al Jourgensen of Ministry has never been one to shy away from controversy. That is very apparent with his new project, labeled “Surgical Meth Machine.” Their self-titled album is easily the weirdest release this year, and somehow the band’s name ends up an apt description of their sound. These songs are chaotic, paranoid, and intentionally baffling, but also incredibly precise. While the sounds are nothing alike, the attitude is akin to Primus. They actively try to make their music difficult to process, and if you can get past the very intentional tolerance threshold for that, you will enjoy the album much more. That said, many of the strange elements here are cheekily borrowed from other bands’ signature sounds, making the album a fun game of “spot Al’s influences.”[columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Album Title: Surgical Meth Machine
Release Date: 15 April 2016
Playing Time: 00:39:59
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Opening track “I’m Sensitive” is a mission statement: it’s by far one of the most inaccessible songs on the album, being both lyrically and musically abrasive, but starting off with a song that appears to be mostly shouted/spoken vocals, chopped and screwed news clips and sound bites, and inhumanly fast, robotic drumming. Following track, “Tragic Alert,” is very similar, with a touch of last 80s thrash added in the shout-along hardcore vocals. As a whole, the song sounds a bit like Suicidal Tendencies if they worked with Skinny Puppy, and once again, the drums are mind-blowing – especially the double kick run at the very end. “I Want More” starts off with a slow drawling horrorcore vocal before abruptly becoming a skate-punk hardcore tune, and “Rich People Problems” follows with a jaunty, Rob Zombie-esque singalong broken up by a powerhouse thrash riff and killer solo.
“I Don’t Wanna” is a little lighter, but no less strange. The industrial-punk vibe is easily compared to Mindless Self Indulgence, and the clean vocal hook on the chorus sounds uncannily like Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys fame. “Smash And Grab” has a brilliant stuttering riff, bringing to mind System Of A Down, or German juggernauts Rammstein. “Unlistenable” tries to be exactly that, returning to the “talk show” vocal style of “I’m Sensitive,” but with self-deprecating lyrics, wherein Jourgensen trashes many of his peers as talentless hacks, but he saves the harshest tongue-in-cheek words for his own band, Ministry, and stops short of saying anything bad about Devo.
“Gates Of Steel” is a paradox. By most standards, it’s the most normal song yet on the album, but simply being the first song that isn’t unequivocally weird makes it seem weird. It simultaneously adopts a bright and cheerful take on a British New Wave of Heavy Metal riff, and a punk vocal, which together sounds like Andrew W.K. fronting Iron Maiden. “Spudnik” throws a random assortment of instruments into the mix – sax, bagpipes, what sounds like a Casiophone keyboard – keeping the vocal style of Gates Of Steel while making the music a little more electronic. “Just Go Home/Just Keep Going” is a full-on burst of 90s house music, booping, bleeping, and glitching through a flashy rave-up. And closing track “I’m Invisible” ends things on an appropriately unexpected note, combining goth rock, show tunes, and classic pop. If Tim Burton’s go-to composer Danny Elfman wrote a James Bond theme for The Beatles to sing, “I’m Invisible” could be the result. Even the sound quality is intentionally scratchy, sounding like a recording of a vinyl playback.
The lengths Surgical Meth Machine go through to make you not listen to their album are extensive. This is an album deliberately designed for people who want to be confused and challenged by their music, and it revels in that confrontational nature. This would be a very bad thing if the songs didn’t back up the bravado, but they do. In fact, because the songs are so strong, they actually make even a difficult album like this very fun to listen to.