ARTIST: SURGICAL METH MACHINE + ALBUM: SELF-TITLED + LABEL: Nuclear Blast + RELEASED: Apr 15, 2016
Al Jourgensen has always given absurd names to his non-Ministry output. Revolting Cocks, 1000 Homo DJs, and Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters are few examples. Today, Jourgensen delivers the self-titled album from his latest project Surgical Meth Machine. Partnered with studio engineer Sammy D’Ambruoso, Jourgensen initially pitched this project as the fastest record in the world and most reminiscent of “Side Fx Include Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV4)” from Ministry’s 2013 album From Beer to Eternity. More recently, Jourgensen has described the album as “dichotomous” with some pop songs and crooning juxtaposing the 220bpm relentlessness of the others. Jourgensen has attributed the speed of the first half of the album to its recording in El Paso, TX; whereas, the album’s mellower second half was recorded when he relocated to Los Angeles and got his medical marijuana card. The first half of the album is, indeed, faster-than-hell. The second half not really mellow, but more experimental, dance-y, and mostly instrumental.
The first six tracks feature breakneck drums, Jourgensen’s impressively adept metal riffage, and a whole smorgasbord of samples, sounds, and noises. Typically, Jourgensen is pissed off. Surprisingly, topics include social media trolls, self-entitled rock stars, and none of the past, current, or possible future U.S. Presidents. Pissed off as he may be, lyrically we’re closer to Revolting Cocks territory than Ministry. That said, musically it’s closer to Lard (his past collaboration with Dead Kennedys legend Jello Biafra – who also appears here) than Ministry. The lyrics on this album are not poetic, or even necessarily profound. But, they are often funny and perfectly fit in line with these songs that seem more rooted in hardcore punk, than industrial metal.
“Side FX” from FBTE is a good point of reference for the albums first half. Speed-metal guitars with a schizophrenic mix of noise art and sampling seems to be a similar baseline. The albums first single, “Tragic Alert,” sounds like what we could expect from Ministry. But, after multiple listens you find that there’s something more going on here. On repeated listens, more things begin to jump out of the mix. This song is in many ways state-of-the-art hardcore punk. It’s fast, it’s got a shout-along melody, and it’s cluttered from floor to ceiling with samples. It seems to me that’s just about everything that would attract young attention deficit affected listeners. “Rich People Problems,” “I Want More,” and “Smash and Grab” follow this template with satisfying results.
One of the most impressive aspect of this album is Jourgensen’s guitar playing. Sure, we all know Uncle Al can play the guitar and he did the solo on “Just One Fix” on last year’s From Beer to EternaTour, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t shredding up a storm here. The solo’s are not just fast, but also tasteful and not as self-congratulatory as say, a Dave Mustaine solo. They fit the songs, but also represent that moment in the song where you’re going 90 miles an hour and Al steps on the gas.
When you get to track 7, “Unlistenable,” the album takes a turn. No longer are we anchored by electric guitars, rather new territory is explored. “Unlistenable” is a spoken word slash noise pastiche where Sammy D’Ambruoso asks Al about various bands (Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Morrissey, and Ministry, to name a few) and Al responds to each with disdain (“Unlistenable! Feces!) and laughter. Finally, Sammy asks Al “any love for Devo?” Al responds with “Devo? They fucking rule!” And bang, we’re into SMM’s cover of Devo’s “Gates of Steel.” This is easily Al’s best cover since RevCo’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” (Rod Stewart). And ironically, this is the most listenable song on the album. “Gates of Steel” is a tight, poppy song that bleeds into the next track, “Spudnik,” as a bit of an outro that Al has described as akin to Clapton’s outro on “Layla.”
The next two tracks are also somewhat related, “Just Go Home,” and “Just Keep Going.” These tracks have to be some of the danciest stuff Nuclear Blast has ever released. Both of these tracks are instrumental and closer in spirit to Revolting Cocks, than Lard or Ministry. “Just Go Home” is trippy, with stuttering drum machines and effects, “Just Keep Going” follows suit as it descends into some kind of drum-and-bass breakdown. The albums closing track is unlike any of the preceding tracks. “I’m Invisible” sounds like a trip-hop lounge act, complete with turntable scratches, a looping bassline, and Al singing distortion free. This song was released as the second single, ahead of the albums release, and initially it didn’t really grab me. But, upon further reflection it is the perfect closing track to this weird and wonderful album.
You’ve got to give Al and Sammy a hand here, they’ve delivered a truly interesting album. Part industrial-thrash metal, part studio collage, part down-tempo groove, this album is all over the place. And I like it. It’s the kind of album that allows you to discover more with each repeated listen.
– J. Kevin Lynch