Release Date: January 17, 2012
What was the golden age of Ministry? Was it the late-’80s, scene-defining aggro-disco of The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste? Or was it ’90s anti-smashes like Psalm 69 and Filth Pig, wherein the band went Lollapalooza by ditching samples and trading up to video-game metal? (I heard you sold your turntables and bought guitars, indeed.) Was it their exhausting 21st-century work? Uh, probably not.
Oh, who are we kidding? The golden age of Ministry is whenever you are 14. After all, the living, (barely) breathing cartoon of crazy that is “Uncle Al” Jourgensen hits hardest when you’re old enough to feel bouts of pure hostility but too young to know how to articulate it; when drums feel best as big, loud beasts; when wearing dusters and cowboy hats and piercings and leather pants — while eating acid with a fork and puking and moshing ALL AT THE SAME TIME — seems like a really fucking cool thing to do. Give a 14-year-old virtually anything from Rape and Honey through, say, Filth Pig. and he or she (okay, probably he) will be bouncing off the walls.
But to contend with Ministry is to contend with endless side projects, from the dance-o-riffic 1000 Homo DJs to the brilliant Pailhead collaboration with Ian McKaye to the playful Revolting Cocks — a sort of k-hole of cute band names and bizarre configurations that can only come from a guy who seems to understand the studio, but almost nothing else. Jourgensen enjoys fucking with one sound over the course of a given record, be it 10, 40, or 72 minutes long. Which brings us to the hilariously terrible Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters and their debut album, Bikers Welcome! Ladies Drink Free, which unfortunately drags on for about 50.
Uncle Al claims he’s been promising the kids (?!) a country record for 30 years. (Never mind that the kids from 1982 are — look, forget it.) So he grabs a few pals — including Soulfly bassist Tony Campos and on-and-off guitarist partner Mike Scaccia (both appeared on Relapse, the new Ministry album set for March) — throws in a few ringers (Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen!), and deploys one of the most flat-out annoying records of this or any year. (After all, it’s not like nobody’s ever thought of mixing redneck pomp and industrial roots before; somewhere Kid Rock, the man who gave us the RevCo-ish “Bawitdaba,” is like, “Dude, I got this. Go back to putting animal heads on spikes or something.”) Augmenting originals with a couple of covers, Buck Satan avoids Ministry’s roar but maintains their speed, stapling drum-machine gallops to fast violins and guitar riffs that are only vaguely country-shaped, all of it mastered at ear-bleeding volume.
Ol’ “Buck Satan” runs into a few problems fast. The fusion of mechanized rhythms and country instrumentation is a pure, head-on car crash — perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Even at its bluegrass-swiftest (or NashVegas-slickest), country is pretty limber stuff; at its best, the music swings like a motherfucker. This does not. “Quicker Than Liquor,” an ode to heroin and cocaine, particularly suffers from a weird stiffness. It also suffers from the fact that Al Jourgensen has never, ever been able to sing with any sort of clean articulation. The only vocals here that don’t sound instantly ludicrous are the ones that are the most digitally processed (“What’s Wrong With Me?”). Song titles read like parodies: “The Only Time I’m Sober Is When You’re Gone,” “Sleepless Nights and Barroom Fights,” and the Borstch Belt-worthy “I Hate Every Bone in My Body Except Mine.”
And while it’s always been impossible to tell the extent to which even Jourgensen buys into his own guff, Bikers Welcome seems to take itself more and more seriously as it goes on — the industrial whump dials down, the somewhat more traditional twang dials up. “Cheap Wine, Cheap Ramen” is a fairly straight-faced, screwed-by-the-label lament; “Ten Long Years in Texas” is an autobiographical (?) tale of migrant post-junkiehood. As for the covers, I don’t doubt that Jourgensen is fond of these songs, but he’s a bit too much of a towel-snapper with them. The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” gets a mock speed-metal makeover; while “Drug Store Truck” (a version of the Byrds’ “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”) similarly barrels on down the road pointlessly. Despite the fact that these odes to fucking up are coming from a man who knows such territory better than most, it’s hard to see how even a diehard 14-year-old could find any of this strange, oddly sad “country-core” goof either affecting or amusing.