Ministry – Trax! Rarities

Yes, this really is Al Jourgensen! (Photo: Brian Shanley)

Cleopatra Records will be releasing the long-awaited Trax! Rarities double album by industrial-alt rock legends Ministry on Decemer 9th. I was lucky enough to hear a preview and it’s mint!

Ahh, Ministry in the early 80’s, more Howard Jones than Motorhead, all synthpop, whirling arms and clean-cut vocals. How far they have come in the 30 or so years since. Al Jourgensen is unrecognisable from the fresh-faced, spiky haired popster of 1983. That was the year With Sympathy (known as Work For Love in the UK, no idea why) came out and a star was born, sort of.

As time moved on it became apparent that a meteor had in fact torn itself free of its orbit and slammed into an unsuspecting blue-green planet creating a crater so deep and wide it had to be filled with roaring heavy metal guitar riffs and unremittingly intense, abrasive and pounding electronics. That’s when Ministry became the band we know (and love) today.

However, it wouldn’t be until the release of the darker, edgier and heavier Twitch that the true Ministry would begin to emerge, coalescing like inks in a pool as the colours ran and merged creating a cloak of beat-strewn deafening menace.

Produced by On-U Sound musicologist Adrian Sherwood, who so heavily stamped his mark on the record that Jourgensen admits that was perhaps more Sherwood than Ministry, it is a triumph, the precursor to the burgeoning electro-industrial scene, a baton grabbed by Nine Inch Nails and coveted by so many more.

What followed Twitch was a procession of increasingly brutal and pugilistic albums as Ministry fought their way ever deeper into the pit of aggro-tech shrapnel-torn industrial-metal. Bpm’s increased with the same regularity as Jourgensen’s tattoos.

We had the likes of Front 242, Frontline Assembly and Skinny Puppy already showing their wares but it was Ministry who began as synthpop and then completely re-invented themselves (himself really, Ministry IS Al Jourgensen) to become the industrial-metal leviathans White Zombie can only dream about.

So it was with delight that I learned that a clutch of early 80’s demos/live tracks and other stuff were being released by Cleopatra Records. Now, Uncle Al has repeatedly dismissed this period in his musical career, hating the very mention of anything pre-1986 (when Twitch was unleashed). So it is a rare treat to be presented with undiscovered recordings from this period.

I’m a fan of With Sympathy, I love the cheesy, melodic synthpop. All shiny and bright and optimistic…many Ministry fans do. The songs on that album are strong, to the point and catchy. Jorgensen’s voice is, well, just peachy. Clean, youthful and with nary a care in the world.

So, this release features a slew of trinkets and goodies starting from that early period.

Side A has some live Ministry recordings from 1982. This is all rare stuff. It’s ace, all jangly guitar, funk bass, new wave keys and Jourgensen’s sleek voice.

“Love Change” is a belter. Numan-esque moog lines, Devo-esque drums and Al displaying charm and wit. God, this more new wave than new wave.

Side B moves on to demos. These are from 1982 and 83. If, like me you think With Sympathy is all too brief, you’ll love these. Absolutely more of the same. Al may have seen this period as metaphorically twirling his handbag beneath a street lamp but I think it’s ace. He demonstrates real song craft, each tune perfectly formed and insanely catchy.

Punchy synth dance blasts that show more craft and guile than much of Howard Jones and Human League (post-Dare Human League of course, Dare and earlier is practically peerless).

Sure some of the tracks are a little clunky and packed with maybe too many ideas but they still hold up, perhaps even more today thanks to the synthpop revival that’s been circling the globe for ages. “Same Old Madness” is brisk and never outstays its welcome; “The Game Is Over” is a dark Goth swirler in the mould of Sisters Of Mercy; “Let’s Be Happy” is all sparkly synth leads and bending bass; Even a Roxy Music cover, “Same Old Scene” is included.

Highlight for me is “Wait” with its lovely synth stabs, moog bass and layered vocals. You can really tell these are demos as the sound quality sometimes flickers between right and left channels and each track has a raw feel, but that all adds to the charm.

Side C and we get a clutch of tracks that sound like they’ve been culled from early Twitch sessions. “I See Red” is instantly harder, more programmed and more recognisably industrial. Very similar in ways to the early albums of KMFDM, funkier with sledgehammer beats and staccato bass lines.

“Self Annoyed” takes this further edging towards the sound of “The Land of Rape and Honey” without the carnage of guitars. It’s almost a bridge between the two albums and is a strong track. Jourgensen’s shouts and effects-drenched voice, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult style backing vocals and industrial, clanking beats drive this track home.

Now we are treated to some Revolting Cocks, “Fish In Cold Water” is a pearl, all David Byrne-esque vocals and funked-out electronic grind. “(Let’s Get) Physical (Banned Version)” is a slight variation on the original but doesn’t add much.

Finally on Side D we get some PTP and “Show Me Your Spine”, yeah love this one with Art Of Noise Orch Hits (look it up, very popular sample in the 80’s) all over the show. Pailhead “Don’t Stand In Line (Dub Mix)” does the job, more RevCo and “Drums Along The Carbide” is a furious concoction of feedback, samples, distorted beats and reverbing bass. Closing out is 1000 Homo DJs “Supernaut (Dub Remix)” and it’s a nice remix, dirtying up the original good and proper.

So, this is a fun collection of early stuff and rarities that any Ministry fan should enjoy. The early demos are a delight while the two Twitch/Land era tracks are, for me, a gem of a find. Overall this is a solid release of rarities and curiosities that a serious fan will relish.

Uncle Al is fucking cool in any time period and you shouldn’t forget that, so get on board the Jourgensen express and enjoy the thrill ride of your life.

Scheduled for release on December 9th, this new Ministry collection will be pressed on clear vinyl with a printed inner sleeve. Sounds hard, looks pretty.


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