Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen is a lot of things: a pioneer of industrial metal, a provocateur (he recently bared his ass — and a little more — to an unsuspecting crowd at the Denver Film Festival), a staunch feminist and an outspoken anti-fascist.
With an career spanning decades, Ministry is back on the road supporting the thirtieth anniversary of The Land of Rape and Honey and 2018’s AmeriKKKant. The band's recent tours over the past few years have been a welcome surprise; after all, Jourgenson announced he was calling it quits back in 2008, in part because his health was falling apart.
“Nowadays, I’m not throwing up a pint of blood every day. When I announced I wasn’t going to tour anymore, my guitarist and best friend [Paul Raven] had died, and on top of that, I was really sick. We finally found out I had like thirteen ulcers in my lower intestine, and that’s why I was puking and pissing blood and shitting blood every day, and I was like, I can’t do this anymore. Then I had surgery and got it all cleared, and since then I’ve been fine and my health has been great, and I’m ready to go."
Touring's one thing, but relaunching an entire career and making new music is another. But inspiration struck.
"We got this weird fascist guy as president, and I said, 'You know what? It’s time to write some albums,'” says Jourgensen.
Jourgensen has never been quiet about his political opinion, even as a kid. The horrors of the Vietnam War troubled him at an early age.
“I was already thinking about: Is this right for a war that doesn’t make any sense? A ten-year-old and you’ve already got it in your head that one day you’ll have to go be a bullet-stopper for some unknown mysterious agenda.” Compelled to do something about the war, he ran away from home at ten to attend protests against the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where police tear-gassed him and fellow protestors.
Jourgensen grew up in Colorado, where he graduated from Summit County High School in 1973 and attended classes at the University of Northern Colorado and Colorado State University.
Soon after, he moved to Chicago, where he formed Ministry in 1981. During the group's early years, Jourgensen explored synth pop, but it never quite fit, and over time his sound grew darker and more complex. Then in 1988, he released the seminal album The Land of Rape and Honey, laying the foundation for underground industrial metal by adding heavy guitar and drums to an already expansive electronic sound.
“To this day, in my amazement, we’re considered a metal band. It never dawned on me until I was seeing some of these tours being booked. It was always a metal act opening for us or us opening for a metal act at these metal festivals in Europe, and I was like, 'This isn’t what I set out to do. So we started breaking free of that mold,” says Jourgensen.
Breaking that mold is something he would continue to do over fourteen Ministry albums and on side projects including work on TV and film scores for Natural Born Killers, Atomic Blonde and even Miami Vice.
Early in 2018, Ministry announced a tour with the experimental hip-hop group Death Grips, a decision Jourgenson says turned heads in both communities but made Ministry relevant to a younger, more diverse crowd.
“Yeah, it freaked a lot of people out. But I was tired of looking down from the stage and seeing a sausage-fest mosh pit in front of me with no diversity, no gender differential," he explains. "Just all males, all white, and hostile. [Touring with Death Grips] was really good for diversification of our audience, because we basically have the same message. We just use different instruments to get there."
Jourgensen is thoughtful when it comes to politics, and he champions the idea of democracy — at least when everybody votes and participates. He donated to the Beto O’Rourke senatorial campaign against Ted Cruz in Texas, supported Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns and has no qualms denouncing the views of the current president and the rise of white nationalism.
“It used to be those people would hide under rocks and mutter under their breath. But now it’s been sanctified by their leaders or at least with a nudge and wink saying it’s okay to be a white nationalist. I think the Republican [Party] isn’t dead, but I think it’s maximized out. I really do think that one out of three of these people are afraid of the future or afraid of their white identity,” says Jourgensen.
He also knows his audience — and some of his fans lean toward the right even while knowing his views.
“We do have a lot of Trump people who disagree with my message wholeheartedly, but they’re really connected to the aggression of the music," Jourgensen notes. "I think that's a starting point.”
Ministry, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, November 24, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, livenation.com.
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