If my math is correct, it was the fall of 1993. I had begun to develop my own musical library and tastes away from my parents’ tastes. I was quickly discovering that my tastes weren’t the same as many of my peers (at the time, the big sounds in my grade 7 class were dance music, NWA and 2 Live Crue) but there were a few of us that were exploring the heavier material. Metallica had become a favorite amongst some of us but it was missing something for me. I couldn’t tell you what exactly but I knew as we listened to Master of Puppets in Jeremy’s backyard, that there was something else I was looking into.
And then a guy in my class brought in a tape of Ministry’s Psalm 69 and hit play.
For the life of me, I’m not sure why we were allowed to listen to music. I’m also not entirely sure why this particular kid would have brought in Psalm 69 other than it was an effort to shut up those who wanted to put on some dance music album. Whatever the reason, the opening riffs of “N.W.O.” completely caught my ear and Ministry would go on to dominate my musical landscape for a number of years.
It was loud. It was mean. It had fast guitars but also had keyboards and samples from movies.
I think, most importantly, it was different. A year earlier, Nirvana had opened the door to my musical generation. For me, it was Ministry that kicked down that door and then marched through it like a conquering army into my subconscious.
I asked the kid if I could borrow the tape. I brought it home and instantly dubbed a copy and listened to it for years. I think it finally gave up the ghost in grade 10 when my stereo ate the battered tape I had recorded it on.
Not to mention the fact that for an impressionable kid entering his teen years, this band just seemed like the biggest badasses. I mean, they wore black leather and cowboy hats, the vocals sounded somewhere in Hell. The stories about the band, especially pre-internet, were legendary. “I heard they blew up a bus.” “Did you know that Al guy has died at least three times?”. As a young fan, it really felt like, “Your band might be more popular but my band could kill them and wear them as a coat.” I remember when my cousin and her boyfriend came up to our cottage and asked if I had any Metallica, I produced my Ministry tape and he had this look of shock on his face that a little kid like me was into a band like that.
After a day or two, I gave the tape back and then asked if he had any more by this band. He produced A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste which also got an instant dubbing. When my mom signed up for Columbia House Record Club, my first purchase through her was a CD copy of Psalm 69.
Psalm 69 would have a trickle down effect that would last years. I dove into industrial headfirst. After Ministry, I discovered Nine Inch Nails. Then Skinny Puppy. Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, Front 242 Pailhead, Frontline Assembly, Wumpscut, Pop Will Eat Itself. If it was on Wax Trax or Nothing Records, I would give it a listen.
I would track down every Ministry release I could get. Official albums, bootlegs, box sets, singles, only one other band rivals Ministry for the amount of room it takes up in my collection. When I got the internet in high school, I spent a lot of time digging up information on Ministry.
Given a recent listening of the album, I can completely see what I liked about it then and as an older listener now, it’s still a really solid album.
What gives Psalm 69 it’s uniqueness is it straddled the border of guitars and (for the lack of a better term) sound effects masterfully. Take away the effects, you have an average to decent metal album. Take away the guitars, you have a tv with a bad antenna signal but the way Paul Barker and Al Jourgensen managed to mesh them together, you got this perfect symphony of sound that feels like it can blow away walls.
Most critics will point to the singles that were released from the album as high points and fair enough. “N.W.O.” got a large amount of play on the various music television stations, “Just One Fix” was banned from MTV and Much Music and “Jesus Built My Hotrod” was one of the best-selling singles Warner Brothers had. And honestly, they are great songs that all have landed their way on to my workout Spotify lists at one point or another.
But as an adult, it’s Scarecrow that stands out to me the most now. It’s a bit slower than most of the album but it has the great chug to it. It feels like a train of death just barreling through the countryside.
Over a decade after I had first discovered his music, I got to meet Al Jourgensen. Stupidly, I blurted out, “Psalm 69 got me through high school.” It wasn’t that it was wrong to say that. Psalm 69, along with a few other albums were my aggression/depression release music, it’s just the way I said it sounded pretty goofy.
Al shook my hand and said with a bit of a wink, “Well… it’s definitely better than suicide.”
Next week, album number three where we head to a very important album for an English rock band and a story about the drunkest I’ve ever been.