BOOK REVIEW: “Ministry: Prescripture – The Visual History”

Ministry: Prescripture – The Visual History, Released DEC 6, 2019 by Melodic Virtue. Order here.

Few artists have had as unpredictable evolution, and sometimes strange history, as Al Jourgensen. Jourgensen debuted Ministry in 1981 with the release of the “Cold Life”/”I’m Falling” single on Wax Trax! Records. Skirting the line between synth-pop and post-punk, these songs are the polar opposite of those released nearly 40 years later on their most recent industrial-metal album, the critically acclaimed AmeriKKKant.

Over his nearly four decades, Jourgensen has alienated fans as much as he’s brought them together. There are fans who swear by his early, dance-oriented Wax Trax! days, but tuned out when he released the bands first full-length album, 1983’s With Sympathy. Jourgensen has ridiculed With Sympathy practically since it was released. Nevertheless, for some, this synth-pop album, featuring Uncle Al singing with a British accent, is a touchstone. Many of the With Sympathy devotees lost the plot when Al released 1986’s Twitch, where he jumped as far away from the With Sympathy sound as possible with the dub-heavy, Adrian Sherwood produced album. Though one fan would use it as the template to his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine.

Jourgensen, ever-restless, still wasn’t satisfied. He would blow the doors off everything anyone would expect from the name “Ministry” with the release of the seminal industrial album The Land of Rape and Honey. Upon its release, nothing sounded like Rape and Honey. Strange, provocative, political, and other-worldly, Rape and Honey is perhaps the most important industrial album ever released in North America. Albums like The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69 continued where Rape and Honey left off, only for 1996’s Filth Pig to confound the Ministry fan base once again. Stripping away the heavy sampling that had come to define the bands sound, Filth Pig – for all intents and purposes – is a sludge metal album. Eight more albums followed the release of Filth Pig, from the experimental Dark Side of the Spoon to three consecutive albums that railed against then-President George W. Bush to the bands most recent output.

Following the release of last March’s incredible book on the Butthole Surfers, Aaron Tanner and Melodic Virtue close out 2019 with a tribute to Ministry’s history with Prescripture. The 9″ x 9″, casebound, 248-page book is essential for fans of the band, or as comedian Bill Burr puts it – anyone who wants a coffee table book “to make company nervous.” The book is stuffed with rare and previously unseen photos, artwork, and ephemera that traces Ministry’s history from the beginning to present.

Photos from long-time Ministry photographers/collaborators Brian Shanley and Paul Elledge are copious, as well as a slew of candid shots, many from Jourgensen’s personal collection and others who have crossed his path. Gig posters, outtakes from album artwork, and photos from legendary Chicago Trax recording sessions are peppered throughout. Mingled among all this awesomeness are anecdotes and quotes from Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Arabian Prince (N.W.A.), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), Hank Williams III, as well as members of Ramones, Cheap Trick, ZZ Top, Tool, Rammstein, Death Grips, The Flaming Lips, Static-X, High on Fire, GWAR, Einsturzende Neubauten, and dozens more. This diverse list of admirers is a testament to the reach of Jourgensen’s influence. Seriously, what other artist is going to bring members of The Flaming Lips, N.W.A., and Megadeth together to pay tribute?

Melodic Virtue - Al Jourgensen 2019 Press Photo - Derick Smith
Al Jourgensen from the book Ministry: Prescripture, published by Melodic Virtue. 

The book itself is finely produced. Printed on heavy paper with vibrant colors and perfectly bound, the weight of the book itself satisfies. Opening with an introduction by Jello Biafra, the book is then divided into six chapters that chronologically trace Ministry history from Wax Trax! to 2018’s AmeriKKKant. Flipping through the pages, you can see Ministry’s evolution over time by the changes in Jourgensen’s style – from 80’s synth-pop wear to cyber-punk to dreadlocked and pierced. Indeed, the early photos of Al and Ministry are a treasure, whether along side drummer Stephen George from With Sympathy promo shoots or the earliest days of the Paul Barker, Roland Barker, and Bill Rieflin era of the band. While the book has plenty to satisfy those who have followed the band for decades, there’s plenty of live and candid photos from the last couple of years and current incarnation of the band. Indeed, the band remains as relevant now as they did when they performed behind a chain-linked fence on the 1989-1990 The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour. Also included is a brand new acoustic recording of “(Every Day is) Halloween” featuring a string arrangement and Dave Navarro on guitar. Limited to only 2,000 copies, you should jump directly over to Melodic Virtue to grab your copy before they’re gone.

– J. Kevin Lynch

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