Jourgensen clean, Ministry still caustic

"The Light Pours Out of Me" is a song for the dying. It first appeared on Magazine's 1978 album, "Real Life," and in the '80s became a staple of Ministry's live-from-the-inferno concerts. When Ministry finally got around to recording the song for its latest album, "Animostisomina" (Sanctuary), the timing was perversely appropriate. Only months before, in January 2002, Ministry singer Al Jourgensen nearly died after a poisonous spider bit him.

"They wanted to cut off my arm to save me, but I said no. The medical staff made me sign something that if I died because the poison spread, they couldn't be sued because I wouldn't let them amputate," says Jourgensen, who will lead Ministry at the Vic on Tuesday. "Something like that makes you realize that the rug can be pulled out from under you at any given time. It made me re-evaluate everything: What's important? It was more sobering than any detox clinic. Right then and there, I decided to quit [drugs]. It was like, `Let me keep my arm, and I'll do anything.' Cutting deals with the devil, right? Like Robert Johnson. Just let me live."

Three months later, Jourgensen had recovered and began recording the new Ministry album with longtime collaborator Paul Barker. He did it drug- and alcohol-free for the first time in the band's 20- year career. Was he worried that he wouldn't be able to create?

"They told me I'd never move my hand again because I had nerve damage, but I played all the guitar parts on this record," he says. "That gives you confidence you can do anything. My approach to production used to be `A bottle of Jack Daniels and turn everything up to "11."' Now I'm still turning it up to `11,' but I'm drinking a bottle of Perrier. It was the quickest album we ever made. Three months is a new land speed record for us, and it went so fast because we were excited about recording again. I was pretty much under a cloud for a few years, and getting out from under that made everything feel fresh again."

Barker and Jourgensen had nearly dissolved the band after its deal with Warner Brothers fell apart in 2000. The band had always been something of an esoteric art project, albeit with an undercurrent of nastiness, that made its music difficult to sell. After pioneering industrial-rock from its base at Wax Trax Records on Lincoln Avenue, Ministry signed with Warner and turned into a million-selling band, stealing the show on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour. Ministry's sound--a wall of guitars, electronic noise and rivet-gun rhythms--paved the way for less abrasive, more radio- friendly imitators such as Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward. But Ministry itself evinced little interest in bending over for radio airplay. Recent albums such as "Filth Pig" (1996) and "Dark Side of the Spoon" (1999) had their mind-blowing moments, but the sonics were so oppressive that only diehards had the stomach to sit through them.

I interviewed Jourgensen during this period, and he was in a typically combative, no-regrets frame of mind.

"I don't promote debauchery, alcoholism, drug use or whatever, but I'm not preaching against them either," he said in '96. "In Ministry, we've only had one message: Think for yourself. People want to hear sound bites toeing the party line, they want role models. And I'm asking, `Why would anyone want to be like me? I'm 38 with the liver of a 70-year-old.'"

Now 44, Jourgensen laughs when I read the quote back to him.

"I'm growing gracefully into elder statesman status," he says. "A kinder, gentler Al. Read my lips: `No more Satan.'"

Not quite. There is nothing kind and gentle about Ministry's first studio album in four years, another bile-spewing manifesto about the state of the world, or what's left of it. With another war raging, Ministry's jaded view of the "New World Order" made a decade ago during the previous Persian Gulf campaign sounds more prescient than ever.

"We only tour during Gulf wars," Jourgensen says. "There is something about that Bush family that gets my blood boiling. The music industry and the world as a whole have gotten so sedentary and mediocre and accepting of the status quo that I see the next punk rock coming really soon--and I don't mean Green Day rehashing Buzzcocks chords. I mean real change. People are so fed up. I was proud to be an American the other night, when we were playing in San Francisco and the protest march shut the city down. It was a momentous day for us. People are starting to realize that the Internet is not just a home-shopping club, but a really great way for exchanging information and ideas outside the mainstream media. The tide is turning. It's making me think there's hope for us yet."


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