Ministry – AmeriKKKant

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Ministry is extremely stupid. Al, if you’re reading this, I think you’re insanely talented. You crafted one of the most unique sounds in Industrial and left most Metal bands in the dust. At their average, they captured the rusty, nihilistic, borderline satirical tone that Industrial music always aimed for. You don’t need their best tracks to hear metal that does sound dangerous and threatening to destroy the world along with itself.

The Bush trilogy is stupid, but it was powerful. The lack of insight into politics or the stupidity didn’t stop tracks like “Gangreen” to have power in how much bile and hatred they express. “Worm”, a fantastic display of depression could only come from a political record that’s full of fear and paranoia. The last album in that trilogy was surprisingly good. If the Bush triloy lacked any insight, it was powerful in capturing the emotions of living in such constant fear and hatred of the government.

Oh, but how stupid is Ministry! They can’t write songs. They create loops which beat you over the head for five minutes. That’s why Ministry were always a Dance act more than a Metal act. Verses and choruses are alien creatures to their music. It’s all about the loop that can keep people dancing, but often that loop didn’t change. So Ministry’s songs tend to exhaust themselves after 2 minutes. Exhaustion is another central theme of Ministry’s later works, so overall perhaps it fits.

Seriously, though, how stupid can you get? How stupid can you get with such a fantastic talent and sound design? AmeriKKKant is a moronic album. I mean, look at the title. It still thinks it’s clever to spell ‘AmeriKKKa’. Al is definitely late to identity politics, but hey it might sell records! The songs still consist of endless loops of the same thing. This time, it works a little better – thanks to turning to sludge – only there are so many terrible ideas in between it’s easy to forget that pretty awesome guitar solo that closes the album.

Why oh why did we need “I Know Words”, which is Trump’s vocals scratched and chopped to some fiddling in the background? It sounds like a Nurse With Wound B-side, or at best a stolen section from one of his songs. As an intro, it’s too long. As a 3-minute experimental piece, it goes nowhere and has no reason to take up so much space. Later on we get another interlude with the wasted title of “TV 5/4Chan”, which juxtaposes right-wing vocals with some noise. What does it mean? I don’t know. Right-wingers are pretty bad and are on 4chan. Ministry writing a song about the idiots of 4chan would’ve been actually nice. Maybe someone should take an axe to that meme culture, but sadly Ministry missed their change.

As for songs, the first singles are the worst. “Antifa” has been beaten to the ground and it will never get old. The song chugs along with indifferent riffs. The chorus is Al roaring “We’re not snowflakes, we are the antifa” without any hint of passion or anger or fury or anything. Even in terms of pure sound the song is bad with how dry and hollow the production sounds. “Wargasm” isn’t as stupid and it has a chorus – rare in Ministry’s catalogue. Sadly the song also chugs along with little passion or fury. Al sounds tired. At least at their dumbest, Ministry was furious. “Wargasm” lacks all that. Shouldn’t he be excited to make something other than Thrash metal?

What makes all this more frustrating is that there are hints of a bright future for this band. Although the highlights don’t have Ministry’s fury in the Bush era, “Twilight Zone”, “Game Over” and the title-track are all borderline excellent. Moving to more sludgy metal, sampling like hell and DJ scratches all help to create a suffocating sense of apocalypse, paranoia and general depression from the end of the world. It separates itself from the Bush trilogy by having zero hope. If the Bush trilogy had a warlike spirit, a character to direct anger at this has none.

“Twilight Zone” would’ve been a closing track in past Ministry albums. Now it’s the first actual song. It doesn’t even have a proper riff, but a slow, crumbling sound design that plays like the apocalypse. Sure, Trump is sampled and make fun of, but it’s no longe the direct hatred of past albums. Everything is bad and there is no light. It is a direct sequel in spirit to “Worm” and “End of Days”, combining the depression and the apocalypse. Time will tell how strong it will stand, but it just might enter into Ministry’s greatest hits. “Game Over” and the title-track aren’t too different, but they do the job right and added some much-needed melody.

These are only 3 tracks out of 9. Then again, 2 of the 9 tracks are just interludes. So we’re left with an odd feeling of a very short album that runs for too long that has few ideas and not enough time to work on them. “Victims of a Clown” is a 4-minute catchy rocker that’s stretched for no reason for 8 minutes. The most telling track is “We’re Tired of It”, a return to Thrash that really does sound tired with a horrible, toothless production job. The walls of sound in “Rio Grande Bloode” were enough. This one has none.

People continue to beat Ministry for their stupidity and perhaps we should continue. Stupid ideas flood this album, from stretching “Victims of a Clown” to the interludes, to the first singles and the overall production job. Yet the solo at the end of the title-track and “Twilight Zone” prove Al still has talent in him and it’s a talent no one can capture. Most Industrial Metal bands either replicated KMFDM or Marilyn Manson and Ministry could continue with all the changing members because Al does have a unique vision. I only want him to finally be able to realize it without all the stupidity clogging up their albums. At least this gave me 3 tracks to add to the Industrial playlist.

2 k’s out of 5 k’s

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Ugly Duckling – Journey to Anywhere

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In later records, Ugly Duckling would often admit to feeling insecure and being nobodies. The sequel to this album opens with “Opening Act”, where they constantly talk about how anonymous they are and they kind of hope but don’t expect to be big. It’s the opposite of the typical subject matter. Instead of boasting how big they are, they’re cowering and begging for a little affection.

The irony is, “Opening Act” is a milestone in Hip-Hop. So rare are songs like it. Every line hits hard. It’s easy to follow, and you don’t need complex rhymes when you have such powerful lines. For all the expressions of lacking confidence, it destroys most Rap music. Before they made that song, though, they made Journey to Anywhere. It’s not offensively bland like most of its ilk, but we already have enough bland records like this.

At their best, Ugly Duckling make fun, loose Hip-Hop. The genre desperately needs such records. Too many rappers take their bragging seriously no matter how many Jazz horns they stick in the back. Wu-Tang Clan often sounds desperate for your approval, for critics to agree with how cool and badass they are. When the Duckling use horns, they’re cartoonish. “Smack” is the ideal song to put in a Powerpuff Girls episode. On Journey to Anywhere, they’re just kicking rhymes.

Now, if that was their purpose then fine. Dilated Peoples made a lot of good records using their formula, but they were focused. Their beats had good drums, funky basslines and DJ scratching all over their place. They aimed for a little aggression, too. Duckling don’t sound like they have any aim, so they fall back on dropping random words over beats that are just as indecisive. Sure, they sound nice and pleasant but I can get a similar vibe by listening to anything by Dilated Peoples or Jurassic 5. Why should I listen to this?

Some songs do have some concept. That’s before they found their wit and “A Little Samba” is the only thing that can stand next to “Turn It Up” or “Smack”. The hook is the primary reason, too. Laughing at tough guy bragging is fun, but they band doesn’t sound like they have fun. In their best songs, they emphasize the right lines. Here, they rap more smoothly and more hushed. They seek to blend in with the beat rather jump off from it. If the production was good enough to carry it, then fine. All it does is create pleasant sound. Just like the rappers, it’s too afraid to capture the attention.

What’s the point of songs like “Rock on Top” or “I Did It Like This”? They’re about nothing. Maybe if you listen hard enough you can find a catchy line, but the hook for “Rock on Top” is so lazy and desperate. I know Hip-Hop critics have a weird obsession with smooth rapping over Jazz beats, but that sound’s tired. Unless you have a personality, it’s worth nothing.

As fodder for a Hip-Hop party, it’s good. No track is going to wake the party. No track is going to help people get into the vibe. It’ll just continue it. There are a few keepers – the title-track has a beautiful beat, “A Little Samba” is cute and so is “Pick Up Lines”. Mostly, it’s a record without spirit. Old artists should make tired records like this. It would make more sense for the Duckling to release this later in their career when they exhausted all of their ideas. Thankfully they moved on to the brilliant Taste the Secret.

2 little sambas out of 5

Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

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Panic at the Disco were never ’emo’. They were never even similar to the bands that people mis-classified as Emo. They had Punk-Pop elements, yes, but they were more experimental and glam than their peers. When Fall Out Boy and Chemical Romance traded the punkish hooks for experimentation, it sounded like a band trying to justify their huge fanbase. When Panic reinvented themselves over and over, it was just something they were made to do.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. Urie stomps and brags over a Hip-Hop backing while forgetting to rap. Fall Out Boy released a very similar song recently too. This is what happens to all successful rock bands. After you’re victorious, selling records and getting groupies what is there to sing about?

Stadium is the logical end of any band that relied on hooks for success. Some bands still pretend they have a serious message to deliver. Others, like Papa Roach, still give us angsty lyrics only with friendly melodies. They make it clear that the bands aren’t struggling, but they hope the songs will help you.

Since Panic never complained much about life, they choose (more correctly, Urie chooses) the hedonistic approach. There are a lot of lyrics about partying, drugs and being a bad motherfucker. The biggest influence on this album isn’t Frank Sinatra. Did Frank display the arrogance Urie shows in “Victorious” or “The Good, The Bad…”? For most of the album, Urie tells people either to fuck off, step their game up or how great he is. When he’s not doing that, he tells us he parties hard. It’s no different than your average Rap song on the radio.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s actually what Rock music needs right now. Rock music suffered too much of over-seriousness. Ever since Nirvana, every rock star decided to make the audience a psychotherapist. Some Nu Metal or Punk Pop bands added a little fun, but a lot of Rock was just noise to think deep thoughts during recess. I can still remember the days when we considered fun music to be meaningless and therefore bad.

These songs are great. Urie is convincing in his arrogance and I don’t expect anything less of a rock star with fan girls. Urie sounds so confident that “Crazy=Genius” almost sounds stupid. What kind of lover would doubt him after hearing him on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? On “The Good, the Bad…” he sounds like he will continue smiling even if he’ll receive 1000 punches.

Urie also experiments with genres a bit, but they’re never full-blown experiments. It’s odd to hear no guitars on “Emperor’s New Clothes”, but he never lets the genre he experiments with to take over. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Urie is a charismatic enough singer to hold his own. The hooks are better than ever, but you do wish Urie would go further. If he’s so confident as he presents himself, why doesn’t he try to rap on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Why doesn’t “Victorious” contains a Skrillex-inspired bass drop although it begs to?

As expected, it’s the ballads that fail. They’re not terrible, but they’re a huge step down. They reek of tokenism. Urie may like Sinatra, but he doesn’t have the same kind of voice. He can’t replicate that atmosphere. A few horns and vocal acrobatics don’t make you Sinatra or Dean Martin. They have a specific style of melodies and of singing.

The title-track doesn’t suffer too much since it still has the old rock star arrogance. The obligatory closing ballad is a huge step down. Instead of channeling the influence and making a throwback, it’s just your ordinary piano ballad at the end of a rock album. Ballads often stick like a sore thumb in an album full of party tracks.

These two and a few other, more serious tracks make the record less focused. Urie plays the party tracks with full conviction, but he’s unsure how exactly to imitate Sinatra. Without this focus, the album fails to be the big statement it should have been. It’s still a great record full of hooks and variety, though. Maybe Pretty Odd was Panic’s classics and they will never improve on it, but Urie is far sounding out of ideas.

3.5 naked emperors out of 5