Formation and early days (1981–1982)
Ministry's origins date to 1978, when Jourgensen moved from Denver to Chicago to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was introduced to the local underground scene by his then-girlfriend Shannon Rose Riley, and in 1979 he replaced Tom Hoffmann on guitars in Special Affect, a post-punk group which featured vocalist Frank Nardiello (Groovie Mann of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult), drummer Harry Rushakoff (Concrete Blonde) and bassist Marty Sorenson. Following Special Affect's split in 1980, Jourgensen formed a short-lived band called The Silly Carmichaels, which featured members of The Imports and played two shows.
In 1981, Jourgensen met Jim Nash and Danny Flesher, co-founders and co-owners of the indie record label and shop Wax Trax! Records who recommended him as a touring guitarist for Divine. After playing a few concerts with the latter, Jourgensen began to write and record songs in his apartment, using a newly-bought ARP Omni synthesizer, a drum machine, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He presented a demo to Jim Nash, who suggested Jourgensen record a single and form a touring band, which Jourgensen decided to call Ministry.[a]
The first line-up of Ministry consisted of keyboardists Robert Roberts and John Davis, bassist Sorenson, and drummer Stephen George; Jourgensen claimed he didn't want to perform vocals, but decided to do so after he auditioned several singers "who all sucked." Nash purchased recording sessions at Hedden West studios which resulted in a twelve-inch single featuring "I'm Falling" and instrumental track "Primental" on the A-side, with the song "Cold Life" on the B-side.[b] The record was co-produced by Jay O'Roarke and Iain Burgess and released in late 1981 on Wax Trax! in the US. In March 1982, the single was licensed by British label Situation Two, with "Cold Life" as the A-side.
Ministry performed their debut concert on New Year's Eve 1982 in Chicago club Misfits, and, the Spring, commenced a tour of the Northeast and the Midwest, supporting Medium Medium, A Flock of Seagulls, Culture Club, and Depeche Mode. Meanwhile, the "I'm Falling / Cold Life" single reached No. 45 in the Billboard Hot Dance/Disco chart with approximately 10,000 copies as of September 1982,:54 and thus scoring Wax Trax!' first hit.
With Sympathy and later Wax Trax! singles (1983–1985)
Ministry (Al Jourgensen and Stephen "Stevo" George) during the With Sympathy
The band's initial success drew the attention of Arista Records founder and chief executive Clive Davis, who offered them a deal, promising to make them "the next Joy Division"—a claim that Jourgensen later considered to be misleading. Signing a six-figure, two-album deal, the band—with Jourgensen and George comprising the official line-up—moved to record at the Synchro Sound studios in Boston, with producers Vince Ely (former drummer of Psychedelic Furs) and Ian Taylor (former assistant of Roy Thomas Baker), as well as keyboardists Roberts and Davis as session musicians.
A 12-inch single containing the song "Same Old Madness" was recorded and planned for release, along with its accompanying music video. However, "Same Old Madness"—both the song and video—did not surface until 2014; instead, "Work for Love" was released in January 1983 and peaked No. 20 on the Hot Dance/Disco chart. Ministry's debut album, entitled With Sympathy (also known as Work for Love in Europe), was finished around this time and issued in May, reaching No. 94 in the Billboard 200. On release, the album was supported by two more singles—"Revenge" (with a music video partially reworked from "Same Old Madness") and "I Wanted to Tell Her" (a reworked version of "Primental"), and a supporting concert tour with The Police during the North American leg of their Synchronicity tour. During this time, Jourgensen met the members of Seattle-based band The Blackouts—namely bassist Paul Barker and drummer Bill Rieflin, as well their then-manager Patty Marsh, who later became Jourgensen's wife from 1984 to 1995.
In spite of With Sympathy's success, Jourgensen's relations with Arista were acrimonious. Eventually, Jourgensen sent a demo tape featuring a cover version of Roxy Music's song "Same Old Scene" before parting ways with Arista, suing the latter for violating contractual obligations.:78 Since then, Jourgensen has expressed dislike for the With Sympathy-era, often providing different (and widely conflicting) explanations for his antipathy. In a 2004 interview, conducted by Mark Prindle, Jourgensen said that after signing with Arista, all artistic control of Ministry was "handed over" to other writers and producers. In his 2013 autobiography, Jourgensen gave a different explanation, saying that he was pressured by Arista management into producing his existing songs in the then-popular synthpop style, as a means of making them more commercially palatable. However, in the 1980s, Jourgensen said that when he discovered hardcore music, his musical direction simply changed; Jourgensen reiterated this point in 2012. Jourgensen assumes a false English accent for all of the album's songs, for which he also later expressed great dislike, though Patty Marsh stated in a 2013 interview "...the English accent thing was more an homage to the bands he loved than anything else. He was not trying to come off as British. The Stones used a southern accent and no one crawled up their ass for it.", an explanation Jourgensen himself had also given in a prior, 1983 interview with Richard Skinner.
Departed from Arista, Jourgensen returned with Ministry on Wax Trax! in mid-1984. While working as a cashier in the Wax Trax! store, he continued to record new material. In Autumn 1984, Ministry embarked on a new tour with a renewed line-up, supported by Belgian industrial dance act Front 242. During this tour, Sire Records co-owner Seymour Stein attended several gigs, offering the band a new deal; Jourgensen, recalling his negative experience with Arista, repeatedly declined, but eventually agreed to sign on the condition that Sire would provide resources to support the Wax Trax! imprint; as Jourgensen put it, "it was kind of a personal sacrifice to keep that company rolling and allow them to keep signing bands." George left Ministry soon after this tour, disagreeing with Jourgensen over increased use of drum machines, and went on to form the short-lived band Colortone, and, much later, to pursue a record engineering career. Ministry released several singles throughout the Summer of 1985—"All Day", "(Every Day Is) Halloween" and "The Nature of Love", as well as a reissue of "Cold Life"—which were cited as marking Jourgensen's first attempt at injecting industrial elements into Ministry's sound. Initially the B-side on "All Day" single, "... Halloween" became viewed as a goth anthem similar to Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead"; "The Nature of Love", which came out in June 1985, became Ministry's final single on Wax Trax!; as of July 1985, the band was said to be signed on Sire Records.
Ministry debuted on Sire/Warner Bros. in late 1985 with the single "Over the Shoulder", preceding the release of the band's second studio album, Twitch, in March 1986. Twitch was recorded and mixed largely at Southern Studios in London and Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin during 1985, with the On-U Sound Records owner Adrian Sherwood and Jourgensen sharing co-production duties. Despite the contribution of several others (namely Belgian singer Luc Van Acker and Sherwood's acquaintance Keith LeBlanc), the album's material was mainly performed by Jourgensen, listed as the band's sole member. Some material, recorded during the Twitch sessions, was later used for LeBlanc's and Sherwood's other projects, most prominently LeBlanc's solo album Major Malfunction.:20
On release, Twitch hit No. 194 in Billboard 200, and was supported by a US and Canadian tour. Jourgensen assembled a new touring line-up, featuring Roland Barker on keyboards, Paul Barker on bass and Bill Rieflin on drums. Twitch received mixed reviews, with a music critic Robert Christgau stating, "Chicago's Anglodisco clones meet Anglodisco renegade Adrian Sherwood and promptly improve themselves by trading in wimpy on arty"; nevertheless, the album came to be viewed as a pivotal point in the band's discography, as it signaled ongoing changes in Ministry's sound. In later publications, Jourgensen credited Sherwood with giving his music an aggressive edge and providing production advice, but considered the record "so Adrian Sherwood-influenced."
The Land of Rape and Honey (1987–1988)
After Twitch, Paul Barker became Jourgensen's primary collaborator in Ministry; until his departure, he was the only person credited as a member of the band other than Jourgensen. Jourgensen then made another significant change to Ministry's sound when he resumed playing electric guitar. With Rieflin on drums, Ministry recorded The Land of Rape and Honey (1988). The album continued their success in the underground music scene. The Land of Rape and Honey made use of synthesizers, keyboards, tape loops, jackhammering drum machines, dialogue excerpted from movies, unconventional electronic processing, and, in parts, heavy distorted electric guitar and bass.
The album was supported by a tour in 1988 and the singles and music videos for "Stigmata" and "Flashback". "Stigmata" was also used in a key scene in Richard Stanley's 1990 film Hardware, although the band shown performing the song was Gwar.
The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste (1989–1990)
The follow-up album, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste was supported by a tour from 1989 to 1990. Due to the complex nature of the album's drumming, a second drummer, Martin Atkins (formerly of Public Image Ltd. and Killing Joke), was hired. In addition to Atkins, a ten piece touring line-up was formed, consisting of Chris Connelly (keyboards and vocals), Skinny Puppy vocalist Nivek Ogre (vocals and keyboards), Joe Kelly (vocals and backing vocals) and guitarists Mike Scaccia, Terry Roberts, and William Tucker, with Jourgensen, Paul Barker and Rieflin serving as the group's core members. This tour was documented on In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up. Two opening tracks, "Burning Inside" and "Thieves", were released as a commercial single; "Burning Inside" was accompanied by a music video.
Psalm 69 (1991–1993)
After completing the Revolting Cocks tour in early 1991, Jourgensen and his bandmates began work on a follow-up to The Mind ... at Chicago Trax! studios, amidst problems brought on by growing substance abuse. During these initial sessions, Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers recorded vocals for what became "Jesus Built My Hotrod", which hit No. 19 in the Modern Rock Tracks chart with approximately 128,000 copies as of mid-July 1992; considered Ministry's first and biggest commercial hit, it built significant anticipation for their upcoming album, then titled The Tapes of Wrath. In an attempt to distance themselves from drugs and find fresh perspective, the band relocated from Chicago to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to record at Royal Recorders studios for ten weeks. After considering the Wisconsin sessions a "washout", they returned to Chicago to complete the album – now entitled Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, after a chapter from Aleister Crowley's The Book of Lies – by early May 1992, with only nine of about thirty songs written being chosen to feature. The album was influenced by speed and thrash metal, often being described as their fastest record by fans and critics. It was released on July 14, 1992 and peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard 200 chart. Soon after, Ministry was invited to headline the second Lollapalooza tour with Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden, among others, before commencing a tour of Europe and the US, with Helmet and Sepultura as supporting acts.
Filth Pig (1994–1996)
In October 1994, Ministry performed at the eighth Bridge School Benefit charity concert, with sets of cover songs (most prominently Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay") and one original song, "Paisley", which was intended to be on their next album. After constructing a studio in Austin, Texas in 1993, the band proceeded to record a new album in July 1994. After refusing to perform drums on a cover version of "Lay Lady Lay", Rieflin parted ways with Jourgensen midway through the recording process. Along with newly-recruited Rey Washam (formerly of Scratch Acid, Didgits, and Rapeman) who performed the rest of the album's drum work, Ministry performed as one of the headliners for Australia and New Zealand's Big Day Out touring festival in January 1995. In spite of their growing success, Ministry was nearly derailed by drug problems and a series of arrests followed in August 1995. Completed at Chicago Trax Studios, Filth Pig was released in 1996. Musically, Filth Pig was more heavy metal than industrial, with synthesizers and samples mostly stripped from a mix that focused on conventional hard rock instrumentation.
The album's songs were played mostly at slower tempos than those on their previous three LPs, giving it an almost doom metal feel. Filth Pig was supported with the singles/videos "Reload", "The Fall", "Lay Lady Lay" and "Brick Windows" and with a tour in 1996 (the live performances were later anthologized on the Sphinctour album and DVD in 2002). Jourgensen has subsequently said that he was severely depressed during this period, that Filth Pig reflects this, and that he dislikes performing music from Filth Pig.
Dark Side of the Spoon (1998–2000)
Ministry recorded their final studio album for Warner Bros. Records, Dark Side of the Spoon (1999), which they dedicated to William Tucker, who committed suicide earlier that year. For Dark Side of the Spoon, Ministry tried to diversify their sound by adding some melodic and synthetic touches to their usual electro-metal sound, along with some jazz influences, but the album was not well received. However, the single "Bad Blood" appeared on the soundtrack album of The Matrix and was nominated for a 2000 Grammy award.:72 During this period, Jourgensen had an infected toe amputated after accidentally stepping on a discarded hypodermic needle.
In the summer of 2000, Ministry was invited to that year's Ozzfest; amidst a management changeover, they were dropped from the bill and replaced by Soulfly.
Hiatus and Animositisomina (2001–2003)
After Ministry split from Warner Bros., the label issued the 2001 collection Greatest Fits, which featured a new song, "What About Us?". Ministry would later perform the song in a cameo appearance in the Steven Spielberg film AI: Artificial Intelligence. During the years 2000–2002, disputes with Warner Bros. Records resulted in the planned live albums Live Psalm 69, Sphinctour and ClittourUS on Ipecac Recordings being canceled. Sphinctour was released on Sanctuary Records.
Around 2001, Jourgensen almost lost his arm when he was bitten by a venomous spider. By his own admission, Jourgensen was suicidal during this period and decided to call an acquaintance he had met years earlier; the acquaintance, Angelina Luckacin, helped Jourgensen give up his massive substance habit (which included heroin and cocaine "speedballs", crack, LSD, various pharmaceuticals and as many as two full bottles of Bushmills whiskey per day). Jourgensen and Barker, along with Max Brody who had joined as a saxophone player for the 1999 tour, focused on developing songs for a new record during 2001 and 2002, with the band issuing Animositisomina on Sanctuary Records in 2003. The sound was strongly heavy metal with voice effects, though it featured an almost-pop cover of Magazine's "The Light Pours Out Of Me". Animositisomina, compared to previous releases, sold poorly and singles for "Animosity" and "Piss" were canceled before they could be released.
Barker announced his departure from Ministry in January 2004. He stated that the trigger was his father dying while the band was wrapping up a summer tour in Europe, and also stated that his family life was his main focus at that particular time. Jourgensen's second wife Angelina Lukacen stated in 2013 that he fell out with Barker over the band's finances. Jourgensen continued Ministry with Mike Scaccia and various other musicians.
Houses of the Molé and Rio Grande Blood (2004–2006)
For Ministry's next album, Jourgensen released the song "No W", a song critical of then-U.S. President George W. Bush; an alternate version of the track was placed on the multi-performer compilation Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1. The follow-up LP, Houses of the Molé (2004), contained the most explicitly political lyrics Jourgensen had yet written, with songs played more crudely than on previous recordings, giving the album the most metal-oriented sound of their career. In 2006 the band released Rio Grande Blood, an LP on Jourgensen's own 13th Planet Records. With Prong's Tommy Victor and Killing Joke's Paul Raven, the album featured an even heavier thrash metal sound drawing comparison to Slayer. The single "Lieslieslies" was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance at the 49th annual Grammy Awards. It, along with another song on the album, "The Great Satan", is also available as a downloadable content song for the 2008 video game Rock Band 2. In July 2007, the band released Rio Grande Dub, an album featuring remixes from the band's 2006 Rio Grande Blood album.
The Last Sucker, Cover Up and Undercover (2007–2010)
What Jourgensen expected to be Ministry's "final" album, The Last Sucker was released on September 18, 2007.
On June 4, 2007, Al Jourgensen filed a Tortious Interference lawsuit against Barker and Spurburn Music in Los Angeles Superior Court. (case #SC094122) The case was dismissed on October 24, 2008.
Paul Raven died on October 20, 2007, a month and two-days after the release of The Last Sucker, suffering an apparent heart attack shortly after arriving in Europe to commence recording for the French industrial band Treponem Pal near the Swiss border.
Al Jourgensen remixed and co-produced Spyder Baby's "Bitter", which was released by Blind Prophecy Records in early 2008.
A song titled "Keys to the City", which became the theme song for the Chicago Blackhawks, was released on March 5, 2008. In addition to this single, two albums of covers/remixes, Cover Up (April 1, 2008) and Undercover (December 7, 2010) were released. All of these releases are credited to Ministry and Co-Conspirators, since they feature collaborations between Al Jourgensen and other musicians.
Ministry's "farewell" tour, the "C-U-LaTour", started its North American leg on March 26, 2008 with Meshuggah performing as special guests and Hemlock as an opening act. They played their final North American shows in Chicago on May 10 and 12, 2008. The final date on the international leg of the tour was at the Tripod in Dublin, Ireland on July 18, 2008. During the performance, Jourgensen repeatedly reaffirmed it would indeed be the last ever Ministry show. Due to a large demand for tickets, an extra gig was added at the Tripod on July 19, 2008. The band again played to a full house. Ministry's final song at this show (and ostensibly their last ever live performance) was a rendition of their cover version of "What a Wonderful World".
Adios ... Puta Madres, a live album featuring material culled from the tour, was released in 2009 on CD and DVD.
A documentary film called Fix: The Ministry Movie was planned for release sometime in 2010. However, the release date was pushed back to early 2011. Eventually, it premiered at the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival. Jourgensen sued the filmmaker, Doug Freel, for failing to fulfill a portion of the contract giving Jourgensen approval over the final cut, along with "thousands of dollars". The lawsuit was dropped in July 2011. On July 21, the film was screened privately at the Music Box Theater in Los Angeles.
Reunion, Relapse and death of Mike Scaccia (2011–2012)
On August 7, 2011, Ministry announced they would reform and would play at Germany's Wacken Open Air festival, set to take place August 2–4, 2012. The reunion lineup featured Al Jourgensen on vocals, Mike Scaccia and Tommy Victor on guitar, Aaron Rossi on drums, John Bechdel on keyboards, and Tony Campos on bass.
Jourgensen told Metal Hammer in August 2011 that Ministry was working on a new album called Relapse, which they hoped to release by Christmas. Regarding the sound of the new material, he explained, "We've only got five songs to go. I've been listening to it the last couple of weeks and I wasn't really in the mood, I was just taking it as a joke. Just to pass the time at first but [Mikey's] raving about it. It's like, dude c'mon, this is not about Bush, so ... that part's over. The ulcers are gone and Bush is gone so it's time for something new. I think this is actually gonna wind up being the fastest and heaviest record I've ever done. Just because we did it as anti-therapy therapy against the country music we would just take days off and thrash faster than I've done in a long time, faster than Mikey's done in a long time. He just did a Rigor Mortis tour and said it was easy compared to this Ministry stuff so it's gonna be brutal and it's gonna freak a lot of people out."
Ministry announced on their website that they entered the studio on September 1, 2011 with engineer Sammy D'Ambruoso to begin recording their new album. During the third webisode featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Relapse, a release date of March 3, 2012 was announced.
On December 23, 2011, Ministry released "99 Percenters", the first single from Relapse, and began streaming it on their Facebook page two days later. On February 22, 2012, Ministry released a second single, "Double Tap", which was included in the April 2012 issue of the Metal Hammer magazine. On March 23, 2012, Relapse was released.
From Beer to Eternity, AmeriKKKant and next album (2013–present)
On December 23, 2012, guitarist Mike Scaccia died following an on-stage heart attack, while playing with his other band, Rigor Mortis. In an interview with Noisey in March 2013, Jourgensen announced that Ministry would break up again, explaining that he did not want to carry on without Scaccia. He explained, "Mikey was my best friend in the world and there's no Ministry without him. But I know the music we recorded together during the last weeks of his life had to be released to honor him. So after his funeral, I locked myself in my studio and turned the songs we had recorded into the best and last Ministry record anyone will ever hear. I can't do it without Mikey and I don't want to. So yes, this will be Ministry's last album." The album, titled From Beer to Eternity, was released on September 6, 2013. Jourgensen stated that Ministry would tour in support of From Beer to Eternity, but would not record any more albums. In an April 2016 interview with Loudwire, however, Jourgensen mentioned the possibility of making another Ministry album "if the circumstances are right."
When asked in July 2016 whether Ministry was going to release another album after From Beer to Eternity, Jourgensen stated, "When I was asked [before], it was after Mikey passed and the entire media immediately starts asking me what is going to happen to Ministry. He wasn't even buried yet. I thought, 'Fuck you.' I was really pissed and really angry. I said, 'Fuck Ministry and fuck you for asking.' They want to comment on Ministry when my best friend had died. It's been more than two years now, and I got more ideas and I have done albums with Mikey and have done them without him. It's time to get another record out. I have a bunch of songs written in my head. I wanted to have time to mourn before people start asking me about touring dates. It was sick. I was bombarded and email boxes were overloaded with 'what are you going to do now?' It was kind of creepy."
By February 2017, Ministry had begun working on their fourteenth studio album, titled AmeriKKKant. The album, released on March 9, 2018, includes guest appearances from Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory, former N.W.A member Arabian Prince, DJ Swamp and Lord of the Cello. During their performance at the Blackest of the Black Fest in Silverado, California in May 2017, Ministry debuted their first song in four years, "Antifa", which, at the time, was expected to appear on AmeriKKKant.
In an October 2018 interview with Billboard magazine, Jourgensen revealed that he has begun working on new material for Ministry's fifteenth studio album. He explained, "I have to get as many albums as I can done while Trump is still president, and then what am I going to do: write those crappy albums that I write while Democrats are president?" A month later, media reports noted that Jourgensen had reconnected with Barker after 15 years, hinting that the two might collaborate once again in the upcoming Ministry album.