Rio Grande Blood
13th Planet / Megaforce
inistry's Rio Grande Blood is the audio equivalent of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11: a heavily edited send-up of George W. Bush that ultimately preaches to the converted. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Unlike most musicians with strong politics, Ministry backs up its message with a sound to match. But is anyone listening? A year and a half after the bitterly divisive 2004 Presidential election, is persuasive political discourse possible, much less from a metal album? Ten studio albums into its career, how musically relevant is Ministry? These questions are endlessly debatable, but what's certain is that Rio Grande Blood is a focused blast of rage from a band that's nearing the end of its career in fine form.
To be precise, Ministry is singer/guitarist Al Jourgensen plus a revolving door of hired guns; the current MasterBaTour lineup features Tommy Victor of Prong, Paul Raven of Killing Joke, and Joey Jordison of Slipknot. Most people know Ministry from its late-'80s, early-'90s industrial albums: The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69. However, Ministry began as a misguided synth pop project (Jourgensen calls 1983's With Sympathy an "abortion"), and after Psalm 69, Ministry essentially became a metal band.
Ministry's post-Psalm 69 output is highly underrated. On 1996's Filth Pig, the band abandoned the sprawling soundscapes for metal riffs and traditional song structures. Critics and fans reviled the move, but even the most pedestrian of Ministry's late-'90s, early-'00s work is catchy and well-constructed, if unambitious. This is remarkable given that Jourgensen was deep into a 20-year heroin addiction. With its dense, sludgy riffs, 2003's Animositisomina captured Jourgensen's struggle well, especially in the courtroom setting of "Piss," in which he tells the judge: "I'm not lying / I'm not clean / I'm not buying / What that means."
But Jourgensen kicked the habit and found a new lease on life. Ministry released two studio records in two years; Jourgensen attributes this productivity to "not waiting for dealers all day." He also found a new lyrical target: the second Bush administration. The tour for 2004’s Houses of the Molé featured nonstop anti-Bush visuals and a voter registration drive in conjunction with PunkVoter.com. According to Jourgensen, Rio Grande Blood is the second in a trilogy of anti-Bush albums, the last of which will end Ministry's career.
Rio Grande Blood is basically Houses of the Molé part 2. It hits hard, but the fact that it's mostly been done before blunts its force. The only major deviation is the Middle Eastern-tinged female vocal on the majestic, Killing Joke-esque "Khyber Pass." Otherwise, it's all blunt lyrics ("There's no crisis of conscience / The truth is dressed in disguise / Feeding the hungry with yellow cake / Feeding the public with lies") and headbanging thrash, which occasionally reaches rousing heights, like in "Fear (Is Big Business)" and the Slayer-esque "Señor Peligro." Given recent events, "Gangreen" is especially timely: "I'm the ministry of death / Hoorah! / I'm a Marine, I'm hard, I'm trained / I'm part of a brotherhood, no hackers allowed." Victor's guitar work is scorching, and Jourgensen's voice is still one of rock's most formidable. But an overly hot mastering job makes the album uniformly loud and devoid of dynamics—don't record labels realize listeners have volume knobs?
What stands out most on Rio Grande Blood are its samples. Jourgensen downloaded hours of Bush's speeches from the White House website and edited excerpts together to form phrases like, "I want money / I want yer money / I want crude oil / It's the government's money / I'm an asshole." While perhaps closer to the truth than the original sources, the editing isn't funny or persuasive. Fahrenheit 9/11 sabotaged itself with similar inflammatory tactics, and it's tough to imagine any right-leaning person changing their mindset after hearing this record. But then again, it's tough to imagine any right- or left-leaning person changing their mindset these days. Protest serves a number of purposes, of which effecting change is but one. Protest can also build solidarity or be an individual expression of dissatisfaction. In the latter, at least, this album loudly succeeds.