Uncle Al has gotta be pushing 50 at this point, but he's never been more enraged. Following MINISTRY's big comeback in 2004 with "Houses of the Molè", the cranky ringleader has assembled some new players (notably riffmeister Tommy Victor of PRONG and DANZIG fame, and PRONG/KILLING JOKE bassist Paul Raven), without changing the band's mission one iota. And that mission is: to deliver industrialized thrash metal seething with white noise and fury, and to take as many swings as possible at the current political and military situation.
Give Al Jourgensen some credit, though. It may be easy now to ridicule George W. Bush and his cronies, now that the man's approval ratings are at record lows. But Al was calling him out years ago, and getting slagged for it — people complain about artists for espousing their political views, but wouldn't it be a lot easier to keep your mouth shut and sell more records? Alienating potential fans, when your band is your living, is a pretty ballsy move, whether you agree with the stance or not.
And you can't really talk about "Rio Grande Blood" at all without at least mentioning politics. Bush is right there on the album cover, and the opening track is peppered with chopped-up samples of the Commander In Chief's voice, manipulated to say things like "I want your money" and "I'm an asshole". Though that sort of thing is a big of a one-note joke, sorta like making your little sister's Speak and Spell toy say "poop" and "boobie", the music thankfully has a bit more staying power.
MINISTRY at their best are staccato bursts of simple, direct, lethal guitar riffing, harsh vocals and heaps of distortion and fuzz over the whole noisy mess. And that's exactly what Al and Co. are dishing up on "Rio Grande Blood" -- from the incendiary thrash of the title track and the slow build to mayhem on "Fear (Is Big Business)", to the meaty midtempo riff and surprising bridge of single "Lieslieslies" (is that a little Swede metal influence I hear in there?).
"Gangreen" sends up the dark side of the Marine mentality with an amusing R. Lee Ermey soundalike providing boot-camp yells ("you syphilitic Siberian sonofabitch! I'm gonna screw your head off! I'm gonna sell you to queers!") over a menacing lockstep riff. "Khyber Pass" slips into that lysergic end-of-the-album haze (think the last track on "The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste"), complete with eerie female vocals and a dirge-like tempo. "The Great Satan" and "Rio Grande Blood", though, are archetypal MINISTRY tracks, to the point where they'd be familiar to a fan if you traveled in time to 1990 and gave them a listening party.
But that's definitely not a bad thing, particularly when the band sounds more intense and fired-up than they have in years. Gone is the directionless, drug-addled fog of "Filth Pig" and "Dark Side of the Spoon" — this decade's MINISTRY is clear-eyed, clear-headed, lethally focused, and mad as all hell. They've been on a roll (last year's "Rantology" cash grab excluded), and "Rio Grande Blood" should more than satisfy the faithful. Al may be strictly preaching to the converted these days, but with rumors of G.W.'s brother Jeb casting an eye toward the White House, it's not like he's gonna run out of venom — or sampling fodder — anytime soon.