No one wrestles victory out of the clenched jaws of defeat quite like Ministry leader Al Jourgensen. Heading into the studio to produce Ministry’s 13th official studio album, From Beer to Eternity, he and all the members of his team were beside themselves grieving the sudden and unexpected death of their longtime guitarist Mike Scaccia on December 22nd, 2013.
Last December, Scaccia worked with Jourgensen, guitarist Sin Quirin, drummer Aaron Rossi and bassist Tony Campos on a full batch of new Ministry songs. They finished the rough tracks on December 19th, 2012. Three days later Scaccia died from a heart attack he suffered onstage while playing a live show in Dallas, TX with his other band Rigor Mortis to celebrate their vocalist Bruce Corbitt’s 50th birthday. Scaccia was 47.
Scaccia’s death put a tragic end to all planned future projects: a second Buck Satan & The 666 Shooters album, a Chicago blues record and more thrash-based music. But the tracks Scaccia recorded before leaving Jourgensen’s 13th Planet Studio in El Paso, Texas were so good, so musically multifaceted and incisive, that From Beer to Eternity is destined to be the culminating audio release in the band’s 30-plus year archive of industrial metal output.
“There was no choice,” Jourgensen says of the bittersweet production process. “During the sessions Mikey was smiling and going, ‘You know what, Al. This is by far and away the best Ministry album we’ve ever done together! This is awesome.’”
From the schizophrenic opening cut, the sarcasm-dripping, sound effect-laden “Hail to his Majesty” to the thrash-punk riffs and booming bass reverberations of “Punch in the Face,” From Beer to Eternity pulls no punches, sounding at once familiar, yet completely fresh and inspired.
“When Mikey, Sin and I sat down and went, ‘Well, what are we gonna do?’ we decided, ‘Let’s do what we’re good at doing instead of trying to blaze new trails or play weirdo, psychedelic vacuum cleaner noises,’” Jourgensen says. “ This album is not like a greatest hits album. It’s a greatest bits album. We took the best bits in Ministry’s career and distilled them into one release. It’s like a filet mignon with all the fat trimmed away. There are even influences in there from Revolting Cocks and Lard. It pretty much wraps up my career with a bow and ties up all the loose ends and it’s rock solid – the definitive guide to the Ministry cosmos.”
As much as Scaccia’s death was a major blow to Jourgensen on many levels, it was also an incentive. Knowing that From Beer to Eternity would be the last Ministry album to feature Scaccia’s eclectic guitar playing, which ranges from Middle-Eastern sounding and psychedelic on “Change of Luck” to unhinged hillbilly thrash on “Fairly Unbalanced,” Jourgensen was determined to record an album as diverse and breathtaking as the riffs Scaccia brought to the table, as difficult as that was both musically and emotionally.
“Stopping any album in the middle of recording to go to a funeral can’t possibly be a good sign,” Jourgensen admits . “For the next three months I had to go back and mix it and listen to his riffs every day, and think about him every day. It was pretty tough to do — a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be. I thought I could put him out of my mind and just mix. But of course, when something as awful as that happens, it gets to you. I just had to power through it knowing I was doing Mikey proud and it was for the best.”
Jourgensen wrote “Change of Luck” directly about Scaccia’s death, but the song is hardly morose, and features a soaring melodic chorus that almost sounds like ‘80s pop: “You’re luck is gonna change/It’s gonna go from bad to strange/ ‘Cause Life is so deranged/ we’re only in a field of pain.” Another track, “Side EFX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger/TV4” is a direct tribute to Scaccia’s guitar abilities and features some of his most blazing solo work within an equally powerful framework of machine-gun beats, gang vocal chants and samples from television commercials describing the debilitating side effects that can accompany prescription medications.
“If you’re sick or depressed or whatever, you’re trying to get better, but these medications can kill you,” Jourgensen says. “The drug companies are making money hand over fist and just because they tell you on TV that their shit can be really dangerous, they’re basically off the hook. That’s just wrong and it’s ultimately all about greed.”
Like much of Ministry’s catalog, From Beer To Eternity, takes on greed, hypocrisy, capitalism, and conservatism through barbed lyrics and immaculately placed samples that earned Jourgensen the title godfather of industrial metal. While many of the songs are biting and thoroughly provoking, others are sneering and sardonic. “Fairly Unbalanced“ starts with the sample “That’s here on the FOX news channel, the network America trusts for fair and balanced news,” echoing over a raging s staccato rhythm. A second later, FOX political analyst Dick Morris is quoted: “There is no chance that Obama will get re-elected. Zilch. Zip. None. Nada.”
“The FOX News samples continue on the next song ‘The Horror,’ in which we hammer in this Republican message of absolute hate, ignorance and stupidity,” Jourgensen reveals. The song touches on the radical right-wing idea that rape victims who become pregnant are meant by God to bear the children growing in their wombs. “That’s the ultimate example of insensitivity and cluelessness,” Jourgensen says. “But it’s really cool because from a musical point of view, we managed to turn the almost total Motorhead metal riff of ‘Fairly Unbalanced’ into a complete rave dancehall club vibe, which I think is pretty cool. I can’t see Motorhead or Danzig doing something like that. They’re really good at what they do, but we took a few things that we’re good at and combined them in different and interesting ways to see if they work and they talk to each other.”
The first video for From Beer to Eternity is for “PermaWar” a mid-paced, metallic tune that combines guitars crunchier than fresh tortilla chips, raw, raging vocals, live drums, a catchy doom guitar hook and a quasi-melodic chorus with samples of President Obama talking about terrorism and nuclear weapons. “That song was inspired by reading Rachael Maddow book Drift,” Jourgensen says. “It’s about the permanent war machine that keeps making money, the military/industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against as he departed the White House. The US government just keeps sending young kids with families out there to be bullet stoppers so we can keep selling arms and keep this perpetual war machine going. The last time we did a song that chunky and slow was when we did ‘Crumbs’ and ‘Lava’ on Filth Pig. But then I also used a bunch of catchy background vocals, which I haven’t done since Twitch.”
One of Jourgensen’s favorite songs on the record, “Hail to His Majesty(Peasants),” might at first seem like an irreverent “fuck you” to his fans — a declaration that, as a rock star, he’s above criticism. But as with most things Ministry, all is not what it seems. The song starts with a sample of someone declaring, “Holy Cow” and continues with dissonant, grinding, hissing and scraping noises before Jourgensen says, “I hate all you motherfuckers” and a sample replies “Hail to His Majesty.” The song, like many on From Beer to Eternity starts and stops, in this case, incorporating short-circuiting drum machines and morse code samples with warbly moog keyboards and a distorted metal riff.
“That song is actually the ultimate in self-deprecation and sarcasm,” Jourgensen says. “It’s like, ’Yeah, all right. I’m such a fucking rock star! Well fucking suck my dick because I’m Al fuckin’ Jourgensen!’ But by the same token, the very start of the song says, “Holy cow,” which to me means a sacrificial cow, like people worshipping something they shouldn’t be worshipping. It’s much like in the Bible where they’re worshipping the golden Ox and Moses comes down and he’s pissed. That’s what I’ve felt like over the last 30 years sometimes. People worshipping somebody for doing something they do naturally anyways. What the fuck’s that about? So I poke fun at that. There’s a lot of sarcasm on this album.”
After bludgeoning listeners with 31 flavors of noise, Ministry reach into the RevCo disco-inflected vault for “Another Lesson Unlearned,” which features soulful female background vocalist Patty Fox, sleazy Nile Rodgers-inspired funk guitars and whoosing headfuck production effects. From Beer to Eternity closes with the longest song on the album, the eight-minute-twenty-one second song “Thanx But No Thanx,” which starts with stoner space dub rhythm over which Jourgensen’s favorite veteran and pal Sgt Major reads William S. Burroughs’ “Thanksgiving Prayer.” Halfway through, the song morphs into a mosh-inciting number reminiscent of something by crossover legends S.O.D. before ending with the THC-saturated dub vibe and reverberations containing the lyrics “Thanks for the drugs.”
“Sgt Major was originally featured on ‘GangGreen’ from Rio Grande Blood,” Jourgensen says. “He’s this old, grizzled military man who used to be a hardcore right-wing marine sergeant, and now in his final days he’s become an ultra-lefty, liberal guy who hates government, hates republicans. And he used to be the embodiment of that kind of attitude. He had just undergone lung cancer surgery a few days before he showed up at the studio with his oxygen tank, a pack of Marlboros and a case of beer. He’s a tough, old bastard and an incredible person. He did that recitation of Burroughs literally with an oxygen tank and tubes up his nose, smoking and drinking. Now that’s what I call hardcore.”
From Beer to Eternity will follow the release of Jourgensen’s long-awaited biography “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen,” which he wrote with veteran journalist Jon Wiederhorn (co-author of “Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal”) after Ministry finished touring for Relapse. The book was assembled from over 30 hours of conversations and includes between-chapter interviews with people who have been instrumental to Al’s life: his stepfather Ed Jourgensen, Revolting Cocks co-founder Luc Van Acker, KMFDM frontman Sascha Konietzko, Dead Kennedys and Lard vocalist Jello Biafra, RevCo vocalist Phildo Owen, Butthole Surfers mastermind Gibby Haynes, and European Tour Manager Holger Brandes. “Ministry: the Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen” also features the last in-depth interview with Scaccia.