Artist Spotlight: Jourgensen / Barker / Connelly / Rieflin (or; The Ministry Industrial Complex) [Part 6 of 10]

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here. Part 5 here.

Revolting Cocks – Linger Ficken’ Good… and Other Barnyard Oddities (1993)

There had been a lot of changes at Wax Trax! over the last two years. The popularity of the label had exploded, and with that came more employees and more politics. Vocalist Chris Connelly had a number of problems getting his second solo album Phenobarb Bambalam released, to the point that he had to tour without the record being in stores. At any rate, the next RevCo album was going to be released by Sire. Whether or not this was going to count toward the Ministry contract, or there was likely not a contact between Wax Trax! and Revolting Cocks.

Al Jourgensen, Paul Barker, and Connelly had met to plan out the next album. Barker informed Connelly that Jourgensen was going to do one side of the album, and Bill Rieflin, Connelly, Barker, and his brother Roland (who had rejoined the touring Ministry on the last cycle) would do the other side. Jourgensen then erupted, “Yeah, and my side’s gonna kick your side’s fuckin’ ass!”

The Book Club plus Roland Barker set up a series of VCRs and samplers in Paul Barker’s apartment.  The four of them would go to the closest video rental store (remember those?) and rent 10 to 20 videos, and spend hours watching for samples, then splicing and looping samples, and then usually throwing them out. The group did work out “Sergio”, “Mr. Lucky”, “The Rockabye”, and “Butcher Flower’s Woman”.

“Crackin’ Up” was a song that Jourgensen and Front Line Assembly’s Michael Balch had started back in 1990, but it took the rest of the band to get it finished. The album also had help from Mike Scaccia (Rigor Mortis), Louis Svitek (M.O.D. / Mind Funk), and Jesus Lizard’s Duane Dennison.

Sire released Linger Ficken’ Good… and Other Barnyard Oddities on September 28, 1993. I did not get it on release day, but I do remember seeing the video for the Rod Stewart cover “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (title changed to “Scottish”), exactly once. I was thinking, “who are all these guys cosplaying as Al Jourgensen”, except I don’t think the word cosplay existed yet… but I definitely didn’t know RevCo and Ministry were two sides of the same coin. One time when I was a kid, my dad was cleaning out the shit from a cow pen, and he found a quarter at the bottom. He picked it up, showed it to me, and said, “This is why you never put money in your mouth.” That’s the coin.

The album was dedicated to drummer Jeff Ward, who committed suicide on March 19, 1993.

The group was beginning to make plans to tour. Jourgensen was telling the press that it was going to be a large, overblown Bacchanalia. “We are going to have this 15-piece horn section, all dressed in togas with ‘RC’ logos on the bandstands,” Jourgensen told Los Angeles Times in October of 1993. “Then, we’ll have these five jazz and blues cats from the South Side of Chicago. They are going to be the band. The Cocks will be sitting at a buffet table having grapes fed to us by toga-clad women while we are waving at the crowd.”

But the tour was never to be. No official reason for the tour cancellation was ever given. An educated guess would be due to low record sales (what did Sire expect), or drug problems. Whatever the reason, Revolting Cocks were over… for now.

Chris Connelly – Shipwreck (1994)

1994 was a quiet year for everyone in the Ministry camp. The band did play four stand-alone, one off dates, and session work did begin on what would be their next album.

Connelly and William Tucker went on tour as “the world’s quietest band”, and released a single of three of Connelly’s songs and called is Songs For Swingin’ Junkies.

With the help of William Tucker, Chris Bruce, and especially Bill Rieflin, Connelly recorded Shipwreck in 1993. Rieflin is the one who came up with the title, as Connelly said, “my life was a bit of a shipwreck at that time.” Connelly states that it is hard to listen to, but the album is definitely one of his best. “Spoonfed Celeste” is a country-ish kind of Americana song, while “What’s Left But Solid Gold?” is some Bowie-inflected alt rock. Meanwhile, “Drench” and “Meridian Afterburn” are more rock oriented with some impressive guitar riffing, but still not in any “heavy” territory. The best and most emotional song is the closing title track, “Shipwreck”. The somber song is a great showcase for Connelly’s vocal range, and he hits you right in the heart.

In August 2020, Connelly released Shipwreck Live on Bandcamp, a show recorded on March 3, 1995. The setlist is comprised of songs from all three of his solo albums, and an encore of Scott Walker’s “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg” and David Bowie’s “Cracked Actor”.

1995

Sometime during the recording of the next Ministry album, Bill Rieflin left the group. Rieflin was not idle however. He contributed to Swans’ The Great Annihilator from 1995, and their 1996 album Soundtracks For the Blind, as well as starting a long collaboration with KMFDM. He played on “Ultra”, “Terror”, and “Beast” from their album Nihil (Rieflin’s wife did the cover art as well).

In addition, he joined Sweet 75 (more on them in another installment) with Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, who released a self-titled album in 1995. He also joined up with Scottish vocalist Leslie Rankine (Silverfish, Pigface) and Skinny Puppy producer Mark Walk for a project called Ruby. Salt Peter is a sort of trip-hop/electronic album, Rieflin played guitar, drums, and did some mixing on the album.

Ministry – The Fall (1995) / Ministry – Filth Pig (1996)

In early 1995, the band took a break from recording to do an Australasian tour. Rieflin left the band and was replaced on drums by Rey Washam (Scratch Acid). According to Jourgensen, he was relieved because he was tired of Rieflin’s “constant whining”.

For fans, the next Ministry record seemed to take forever. In December 1995, Sire released The Fall single ahead of the next album. It included “The Fall”, which began as a song for W.E.L.T. project, which was going to be Jourgensen and Ogre (“W.E.L.T. dates back to at least 1988, but it was never going to get off the ground,” – Ogre). Until, surprise, they had a falling out. While Ogre is not listed as a co-writer, former Front Line Assembly member Michael Balch is. The song is quite a departure from what was expected, as it is slow, heavy dirge.

The song also included a longer version of “Reload”, which would be released as a single later on, and B-side “TVIII”.

Filth Pig was released on January 30, 1996. Jourgensen was dead set on not releasing Psalm 70, and had said that Psalm 69 was just released to placate the metalheads. He would change his mind about this sound later. Anyway, Jourgensen was deep in his drug haze and was miserable, which is reflected in the sound of this album. Pretty much everyone hated it, most reviews were unkind. I can remember getting it, and being kind of perplexed by it, but over time, I came to like it quite a bit.

The songs are pretty much all the same sort of sludge metal, with a few exceptions. “Reload” sounds like it should be a 1000 Homo DJs track. “Brick Windows” is a pop song in disguise. But the most lasting contribution to the Ministry catalog was their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, which the band premiered back in October of 1994, when they played acoustic at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit.

Also premiered at the Bridge School Benefit was one original Ministry song that was not on Filth Pig. “Paisley” was instead released on the soundtrack to John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A.

The band would tour for the bulk of 1996, although many shows would wind up canceled. Mike Scaccia was out, replaced by Zlatko Hukic. Hukic would later reinvent himself as a rapper names Marz.

KMFDM – XTORT (1996)

Elsewhere, Connelly and Rieflin teamed up with KMFDM for Xtort. Connelly at one time said he wrote all of his lyrics while still in bed, the morning before he was set to record. Connelly, along with Nicole Blackman and Einsturzende Neubauten’s FM Einheit, allows the group to branch out some, but it still sounds like KMFDM. Rieflin drums on 6 of the 10 (11 if you count the bonus hidden track) songs. Connelly wouldn’t work with KMFDM again, but Rieflin will continue to work with the band throughout the years.

Lard – Pure Chewing Satisfaction (1997)

Jourgensen had contacted Jello about finishing up a Lard record because he wanted to complete it before he died.  His drug addiction was such that he did not expect to pull out of it. The album was bits and pieces recorded between 1990 and its release in 1997. Most of the drums were performed by Rieflin, but one old track had Jeff Ward (“I Wanna Be a Drug Sniffing Dog”), and the newest had Rey Washam on drums (“Mangoat”, which had taken so long to record it had Louis Svitek and Mike Scaccia on it).

The album is really good, for the hodge-podge that it is. It feels pretty seamless, and it lacks the detours that drag on from their other releases.

(Chris Connelly and) The Bells – The Ultimate Seaside Companion (1997)

After Shipwreck, Connelly was doing tours with just himself and an acoustic guitar. He wanted to record a guitar and voice record, but didn’t feel his songs were strong enough. So, he took his time and really pushed himself to write songs that would still resonate in a stripped-down style. “I wanted something that works as a whole, with credits rolling at the end,” Connelly said.

Connelly and Rieflin teamed up as The Bells, with Connelly’s solo guitarist Chris Bruce, and recorded Ultimate Seaside Companion. The songs were recorded at a leisurely pace, over the course of a few years. The result is a laid-back album, that’s more folk than anything.

It was released on Hit It! Records in 1997, and then was re-released by Invisible Records in 2000 in an expanded edition as Ultimate Seaside Companion Revisited and credited as Chris Connelly and the Bells.

Bill Rieflin 1997-1999

Ever the busy man, Rieflin kept working will everyone else seemed to be in low productivity mode.

KMFDM released Symbols on September 23, 1997. On the album, which also has a guest spot by Ogre, Rieflin played live drums, created drum loops, and contributed samples and programming.

In October 1997, REM drummer Bill Berry left the group. Initially, the band drafted Screaming Trees (and former Skin Yard drummer) Barrett Martin. But eventually, the live drumming slot went to Rieflin (but not until 2003), who performed with the group until their dissolution in 2017.

At some point during all of this, Rieflin contributed drums to “La Mer” on Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile.

In 1999, Rieflin released his one and only solo album Birth of a Giant. The album is a masterful mix of electronic, pop, avant-garde, and prog. It has contributions from King Crimson alums Trey Gunn and Robert Fripp, as well as Chris Connelly. It’s pretty rare, but it is an engaging listen, and if you ever find it in a used bin, snatch it up.

The same year, Rieflin released The Repercussions of Angelic Behavior with Robert Fripp and Trey Gunn, which is an improvisational album that was recorded at the same time as Giant. I’ve never heard it, and it seems pretty rare.

Next week: Major label mischief and a new super-group!