Welcome to Stepping Stone, where we see how our influences of the past hold up today. No human is static; our tastes are constantly changing, no matter how slowly. The same thing we liked five years ago might be something we hate today, and that’s the point of this feature: to go back and revisit what we once loved and see what we think of it now. Read previous entries here.
Today, I’m going to explore an album that was a huge influence on me in high school that I haven’t listened to in some time: Ministry’s Psalm 69, released in 1992 on the Sire/Warner Bros label, and considered not only one of the best Ministry albums, but also one of the most essential industrial metal albums ever.
I remember getting into Ministry in my later high school career. As I’ve written about in the first Stepping Stone, Linkin Park was a huge influence getting into high school, but it didn’t stay that way. My last years before college were more dedicated to industrial metal, including Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and KMFDM. (Of course, there was much more than that, but I remember probably listening to all of those artists more than anything else.) Up until that point I’d never really heard of Ministry; in all honesty, I think I got their name from Marilyn Manson’s autobiography, which I was heavily reading at the time. (I’m not entirely sure why I was reading The Long, Dark Road Out of Hell, but whatever.) Manson was reportedly very influenced by Al Jourgenson’s work, and I decided to look it up.
And, holy shit, was it amazing. Psalm 69—the first Ministry album I listened to—blew my mind from the beginning of “N.W.O” until the chaotic mess that was “Grace.” While I loved the darkness and industrial flavor of Nine Inch Nails, and the sheer brutality that Marilyn Manson and KMFDM brought to their music, Ministry was in a whole different level. It was raw, dirty and grungy. Compared to it, NIN sounded overproduced, and Marilyn Manson lyrically looked an angsty fifteen-year-old. Psalm 69 had not only a disturbing, acerbic sound, but it had lyrics that ranged from the political (“N.W.O,” “Hero”) to the religious (“Psalm 69”) to the just plain weird (“Jesus Built My Hotrod”), all with a light coating of dark humor and dry wit. It was basically just what I needed at the time.
In fact, I listened to Psalm 69 so much that I started referencing it all the time in my own writing. Looking through my old fiction the other day, I noticed that I quoted all the lyrics from “N.W.O.” At the beginning of just one chapter of a short story that had nothing to do with the Bush administration or the supposed New World Order. (Why I did it is something I can’t really answer; I had no idea what I was thinking back then, apparently.) Even now, I can still remember Jourgenson’s dark growl of: “All the locals hide their tears of regret / Open fire ‘cause I love you to death / Sky high with a heartache of stone / You’ll never see me ‘cause I’m always alone.”
I actually sold my only copy of Psalm 69 for some store credit at my local CD store—a decision I now highly, highly regret. However, thanks to the magical power of Amazon Prime, I found a used copy that was on my doorstep in about two days. The following is actually from the first listen of this album in a very long time.
All nostalgia aside, I really enjoyed relistening to Psalm 69, to the point that I was actually surprised about how much I liked it. Nowadays, I’m not a huge fan of excessive repetition; seriously, listening to albums like Daft Punk’s Homework or Swans’s White Light From the Mouth of Infinity is a chore bearing very little fruit for me. Yet, Ministry—a band from a genre that usually requires a high amount of repetitious elements—managed to entertain me a lot. I was able to sit down and just enjoy the album without feeling bored.
Probably the best way to describe how I felt about relistening to this is to divide it into different focuses, on music and lyrics. Musically, the album is entertaining, despite all the repetition. Jourgenson manages to bring a lot of catchiness into his music, like the general beat of “Scarecrow,” and the riffs Mike Scaccia plays are really memorable—the riff to “TV II” comes to mind.
Really, “TV II” is like an outlier to the entire album, in a way. While the rest of the tracks have a beat that continues for the entire album, “TV II” is blisteringly chaotic, to the point that it feels like it needs a high dose of Thorazine or something. I think that this song was actually a root for my eventual exploration into acts like The Dillinger Escape Plan and other bands that utilize odd, semi-schizophrenic time signatures.
“TV II” is probably a good place to transition to the lyrics, as well, as it’s an interesting take on (what I believe to be) American media, and the witchhunt mentality that feels inherent to it. Consider the lyrics: “When did you say the earth would stop turning? / When did you say we would all start burning? / When should I make a pledge? / Should I listen to the voices in my head?”
Of course, though, there’s more to this album than just “TV II;” “Jesus Built My Hotrod” is an epically weird song that, upon relistening, makes me both laugh and want to listen more. I mean, how can you take The Butthole Surfers’s Gibby Haynes’s vocals completely seriously? “Scarecrow,” like I said before, has an awesome groove to it that, looking back, probably opened up doors for me into more groove-based bands like Soulfly and Chaos A.D.-era Sepultura.
And let’s not forget the title track, good old “Psalm 69”—a song that, like “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” combines satirical—and, in a way, surreal—humor with some very obvious commentary on religious fervor, that is musically so cool that it sounds like a song that belongs on the soundtrack to the Apocalypse.
All in all, I’m glad I glad I got another copy of this album. Psalm 69 is nothing short of a classic, and while my tastes have grown to encompass music beyond industrial metal, this album is still solid enough to make me want to take a trip back in time and just listen to it all over again.