Most people are familiar with the inception of Ministry, but for those unaware, Al Jourgensen’s musical vehicle was born as a synth-dominated Pop affair. As the 1980s progressed and tension increased simultaneously, both within the U.S. and abroad, Ministry’s music became increasingly more abrasive. This symbiotic relationship came to a head as the Reagan years transitioned into the reign of George Bush with seminal albums such as The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. With the 1992 release of Psalm 69, though, Al was ready to indoctrinate the world by assuming the role of that old snake in the garden inviting the listener to take a bite of the apple.
“Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law” – Aleister Crowley
The extended title of the album is Psalm 69 – The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, a reference to Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Lies where the phrase is turned into a pun for the sixty-nine sexual position (suck seed and suck eggs). Like any great recipe, the ingredients are of primary importance. Sometimes, things fall apart, but for Al Jourgensen’s band, this fifth release marked a penultimate moment. Psalm 69 was recorded with the help of long-time collaborator and bassist Paul Barker and the new addition of one Mike Scaccia of Thrash legends Rigor Mortis on guitar among others. Hiring the guitarist to tour for The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, Al was thus impressed with his playing and invited Scaccia to join the band full-time. The serendipity climaxed with the release of Psalm 69. Mike Scaccia’s buzzsaw guitar tone comingled sublimely with the industrial machinations created by Al and company. With such a precise picking attack, the riffs were that much more abrasive with a militant bent.
“A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on. A psychotic is a guy who’s just found out what’s going on” – William S. Burroughs
The climate of 1991-92 was a frenzy of social unrest and war. The Gulf War had just concluded and as veterans returned home from their conquest of Iraq, their rage had to vent itself. There could be no better soundtrack for the times than Psalm 69. The first track of the album, “N.W.O.,” is an ode to Bush’s famous speech, oft-quoted in numerous circles, liberal to conservative, fringe to mainstream. One can think of the song as an awakening, a prescience of sorts looking backward and forwards through the tunnels of time and peering into what has been, what could be, and what should never be. Was Al triggered? Yes, thankfully so!
“Turn on, tune in, and drop out” – Timothy Leary
The following track, “Just One Fix,” is an ode to exactly what one suspects: addiction. This is where Mike Scaccia’s guitar work converges with the pounding rhythms concocted by Al and company to form a relentless barrage of musical oblivion. One is immediately taken into the mind of a dope fiend. Perhaps this makes the reader uncomfortable, but as the old adage goes, “the truth hurts!” A maniacal schema evolves, the horrific feeling of losing euphoria to confront the inferno of the real world. If Al Jourgensen was Dante, then Mike Scaccia was Virgil. Tweaking yet?
“I feel like my heart is being touched by Christ.” – from the film, Altered States
The high point of the album is undoubtedly the title track. Prominently featuring a sample from the landmark 1980 film, Altered States, referenced above, one is removed from reality and placed in the void of Al’s twisted imagination. Laid out like the soundtrack to Armageddon replete with ominously haunting keyboards, the first half of the song is a call to worship. It is with the arrival of the sample, “And now it’s time for us to give a little love back to God,” that the floodgates open. Featuring what is easily the best riff of the album, a masterful demonstration of technical precision is put on display by Mike Scaccia as Al descends further into a blasphemous abyss. This Luciferian fall from grace is characterized by the lyrics, “Drinking the blood of Jesus, drinking it right from his veins.” Al is bidding the listener to rebel with him against the tyranny of the creator. Shouts of “hallelujah,” “liar,” and “blasphemer” decorate the walls of this hellish prison. In brilliant Al fashion, the song ends with a declarative “Stop it!”
“The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” – Nikola Tesla
Similar to previous releases Psalm 69 decimated trends blazing a trail into virgin lands for the sake of art. When listening to the Black Metal bands that formed the infamous Second Wave, the influence of Ministry is undeniable. A prime example of this is the third track, “TV II,” with its frenzied tremolo picking and pulverizing blast beats. Gazing into the past, the link between Psalm 69 and later albums such as Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War and subsequent releases by the likes of Ulver and Dodheimsgard attest to Al’s prescient vision. The fifth track, “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” is yet another highlight with its brief comedic interlude providing a much-needed respite for the listener. While Al can be categorized as a deathly-serious, forward-thinking visionary, he thankfully never took himself so seriously as to not be able to express his penchant for tongue-in-cheek humor.
Thirty years ago, Psalm 69 was released, justifiably granting the band a much-deserved Grammy nomination. Though they did not win, it is through the eyes of their peers that the nascent respect for the band is revealed. If one can find a copy of the movie Fix (good luck), a deeper dive into the broad appreciation for Ministry is revealed through interviews with the likes of Dave Navarro, Trent Reznor, and Buzz Osborne among others, giving credit where credit is due. At one point, Trent Reznor lucidly admits to borrowing from Al’s plethora of musical ideas to use for Nine Inch Nails.
The epic sound of Psalm 69 is unrivaled and like other releases from Ministry, exudes an almost surgically clean feel due to its pristine production, quite the dichotomy when compared to the bold, caustic musical content. So very many bands owe a debt to Ministry from Fear Factory to Static X to White Zombie. It was always puzzling how Rob Zombie could criminally copy Al’s entire image to climb atop the MTV-controlled “heavy music” scene just a few years later. Ask a musician, though, and they will attest to Ministry’s primacy. With the release of Psalm 69, Ministry set out to destroy trends, reverse the looking glass, and lead the listener through the mire of madness, addiction, blasphemy, depravity, and a vision of America and indeed, the world, as a comedic tragedy conveyed through the lens of Al Jourgensen.