For a while, it looked as if Ministry bassist/programmer Paul Barker and the gang were headed for a real change in sound -- a spare, atmospheric type of album.
Then, the pioneering, Chicago-based industrial rocker and the band stepped back, reconsidered and decided to scrap what they'd recorded. Though it had been in the works for two years, they started over with an ear toward a harder, more classically throbbing Ministry sound.
"We changed our minds in the middle of it," Barker said of the group's upcoming seventh studio album, Dark Side of the Spoon (early 1999). "We recorded a lot of music and discovered that although we liked the ideas, it was not where we were during that time."
Barker said part of the problem was after spending nearly two years on the follow-up to the poorly received 1995 album, Filth Pig, the group -- headed by guitarist/songwriter Al Jourgensen -- found ideas that were once captivating became less so as time wore on.
The nine-track album is slated to feature the songs "Supermanic Soul," "Whip Or the Chain," "Bad Blood," "Eureka Pile," "Step," "Nursing Home," "Kaif," "Vex and Siolence" and "10/10." In addition to Jourgensen and Barker, the effort will feature contributions from guitarist Louis Svitek of defunct noise-band the Revolting Cocks and Rey Washam, late of abrasive rock-group Rapeman.
Holed up in their studio, Barker and Jourgensen began splicing together a less "in-your-face" album, according to Barker, but they eventually changed their tack and decided to focus on a new batch of material that the bassist described as "unmistakably Ministry."
"The people who've heard it say it's more like an amalgam of the best of Ministry," Barker said.
Birthed in Chicago in 1981, Ministry quickly progressed from the twee dance-pop of 1983's debut, With Sympathy -- a lite-funk, pop album that Jourgensen since has renounced -- to the signature mix of dark dance-rock and guitar thrashing on such landmark releases as 1988's The Land of Rape and Honey. That album featured one of the group's signature songs, the screaming "Stigmata," a collision of screeching vocals and thundering synths that has served as one of the group's artistic high watermarks.
Because the group is a partner in the Chicago studio where they record, Barker said it can afford to take its time putting down tracks, which he said can be both bane and boon.
As an example, Barker pointed to the song "Eureka Pie," which he said went through countless permutations and variations as the group tried to find just the right rhythm. "That song is a fine example of taking an idea and making it work through hours and days and weeks of sample manipulation," Barker said of the pounding tune.
Given the uneven balance of moody and pummeling industrial tracks on Pig, many fans said they had no idea what to expect from the band after a nearly four-year layoff.
"I expect a sort of hard thrashing guitar sound, but on the other hand I expect a sample/keyboard based album," wrote 21-year-old fan Afra Ahmad, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based webmaster of the unofficial Ministry page "Just One Fix." "I do not really want to expect another Filth Pig, because as most fans as well as I were disappointed with it -- it just wasn't 'Ministry style.' Especially after [1992's] Psalm 69."
Perhaps Barker and Jourgensen got a peek at the survey Ahmad said he had on his site for more than a year, in which he claimed that fans voted Psalm 69 their favorite album, followed by 1989's explosive The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, which featured such blistering beat/guitar rock as "Burning Inside" (RealAudio excerpt).
Meanwhile, just a handful of the "new wave of fans" tipped Pig
as their choice, according to Ahmad.
Never ones to worry about getting radio play, Barker said the
bandmembers think of themselves as being within the pop vein, but
certainly traveling their own path.
With such cut-and-paste tracks as "Supermanic Soul" and "Eureka Pile,"
which have a manipulated, slice-and-dice sound assembled from hundreds of bits of music, Barker said the group is conscious of creating pop tunes. But he said it's not an overriding drive.
"We did a lot of recording and had a lot of ideas, but somehow, subconsciously, maybe, this stuff is not as aggressive as we wanted it to be," Barker said. "It's a fairly strong record and not as slow and live sounding as Filth Pig ... but I would hope that we would want to be really adventuresome and throw it all out the window and do something radical."