Let’s summarize things for those who may have forgotten or are just tuning in. 2007’s The Last Sucker was supposed to be the final studio album for Ministry, allowing mastermind Al Jourgensen and lame duck president George W. Bush (the primary target of the band’s new millennium output to that point) to ride off hand-in-hand, into the sunset. Then, while working on another project(s), inspiring riffs were born that would eventually become 2012’s Relapse. The highly-anticipated effort was met with mixed reactions; I myself spoke highly of it here, but it has not aged well at all. At any rate, that must have set something off, because later that year Jourgensen began preliminary work on yet another Ministry album with longtime guitarist and collaborator (and the closest thing he’s had to Paul Barker since his departure) Mike Scaccia. In the days following those initial sessions, though, Scaccia died suddenly after suffering heart failure while playing a show with his band Rigor Mortis. Devastated, Jourgensen locked himself in the studio to complete what they had started in memory of his best friend. The result is From Beer to Eternity, an amalgamation of some 30 years of Ministry’s music, and a far more appropriate send-off for the band than Relapse.
(Quick note right away: because Scaccia is credited on less than half of the tracks here as either a writer or performer, trying to frame this as some sort of tribute or testament to him seems a bit silly. So I’ll try to avoid that.)
Was that Phil Rizzuto’s voice I heard at the start? Holy cow, indeed. That light-heartedness is short-lived, as “I hate all you motherfuckers” are the first words out of Uncle Al’s mouth on “Hail to His Majesty (Peasants)”, and they pretty much set the tone for the entire album. Even with a Democrat in office (believed to be his creative kryptonite), the world is full of fucked-up people who ought to “suck [his] motherfucking dick.” It’s a musical manifestation of either Al Jourgensen, tyrannical monarch or Al Jourgensen stars as Tyrannical Monarch. Either way, it’s a slow burn of anger and contempt, two concepts he is all too familiar with. Even less subtle is “Punch in the Face”, which has a good musical flow but feels too much like an outtake from the Relapse sessions.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have “PermaWar”, a musical and lyrical cousin to the anti-Bush trilogy, particularly Rio Grande Blood. Rather than target a single figurehead, though, it condemns the seemingly endless war(s) that they have seen fit to get the country involved in. Plus, Jourgensen throws in a little harmonica as part of an extended instrumental break, which either makes it a killer rock song or some sort of twisted blues jam. “Perfect Storm” slows down the pace but continues to address the issues. This time, it’s the environment (and a little more The Last Sucker) – or is it just a thinly-veiled allusion for the general state of world? It could be seen as going either way, but I’m not sure Uncle Al has ever been accused of being that deep.
There is absolutely no question about “Fairly Unbalanced”, wherein Jourgensen lashes into the Fox News Channel/Network. I can get behind the sentiment, but it doesn’t make very good lyrical fodder. Shots are lobbed at the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity but it’s the talking heads themselves that provide the most entertainment via samples of actual content. The theme conveniently rolls over into “The Horror,” which features some particularly infamous quotes regarding pregnancy and rape. Then maybe, just maybe, it’s a trilogy that wraps up with “Side Fx Include Mikey’s Middle Finger,” an homage to Mike Scaccia. It is entirely possible that an additional side effect of watching too much Fox News is “bleeding out your asshole.” As the latest installment of the “TV” series, this is complete chaos, spoken words, audio samples, guitar/drum loops, and a clear vision of Scaccia shredding the living hell out of that guitar.
From here, it’s basically Al Jourgensen’s farewell address in three parts. “Thanx But No Thanx” starts with a recitation of William S. Burroughs’s “Thanksgiving Prayer” set to minimalist music and then shifts into a heavier, derivative work that expresses more of the same sentiment. Structurally, it’s a bit like the closing tracks from Psalm 69. In “Change of Luck”, Uncle Al reminds us that some people are fortunate, but the rest of us are screwed. Not exactly the most inspirational sign-off, but probably the most honest. Appropriately, “Enjoy the Quiet” finds him sending Ministry off to sea with a wave of static, white noise, and audio dissonance from the world around us, and the words “This is from me to you: enjoy the quiet – now.”
When I first started in on this thing I figured it would be a snap. I was ready to write a bunch of harsh words about From Beer to Eternity, its shortcomings, and its exploitative nature. But I did something that a reviewer should not do: I started reading other reviews. Then I started reading related interviews with Al Jourgensen, trying to learn more about the process, and I found myself confounded. He called it the “best…Ministry record anyone will ever hear” and I just wasn’t seeing it. When he went so far as to call almost every previous album shit by comparison, I knew I had to revisit their past to get some perspective. After a few rudimentary spins of Greatest Fits and a couple playthroughs of the Land of Rape and Honey, I found myself looking at this album in a different light. In some ways, I still am confounded. It isn’t like any Ministry we’ve heard before, yet at the same time, it is all things Ministry. It’s superior to Relapse, yet shares some of the same qualities. It has a sense of finality that The Last Sucker didn’t have. It’s heavy like Psalm 69 and Rio Grande Blood but experimental like Filth Pig and Dark Side of the Spoon. Mostly, though, I’d say it’s simply Ministry being Ministry, and Ministry is pretty freakin’ awesome.
As the man himself once said, “Adios…puta madres.”