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

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here. Part 5 here. Part 6 here. Part 7 here. Part 8 here. Part 9 here.

Surgical Meth Machine – Surgical Meth Machine (2016)

After the death of Mike Scaccia, Al Jourgensen stated, again, that Ministry was over. He announced that he would be working on a new project, which became Surgical Meth Machine. “There’s a couple of real poppy things on there, which brings me full circle, because, literally, I don’t give a fuck anymore,” Jourgensen said. “So, I’m actually almost acknowledging that first horrible pop record [With Sympathy] I did in 1983. I’m crooning on some songs, I’ve got some pop songs on there, and then there’s just brutal assault for the rest of it.”

He’s not wrong. Most of the album apes that “TV Song” style that he doesn’t get tired of rehashing over and over again. But, “I’m Invisible”, is a real departure for anything Jourgensen had done in decades. With the exception of Jello Biafra on “I Don’t Wanna”, the album is just Jourgensen and his long-time engineer Sammy D’Ambruoso.

The album, clocking in with 12 songs in 40 minutes, is a fun listen. The difference between Jourgensen here and with the last few Ministry releases, is that he doesn’t have to tour this album. He can just hang out at home, play in the studio, and not worry about the logistics. He is definitely more invested in this, and glad to be free of the albatross around his neck that is Ministry. At least for now.

Bells Into Machines – Bells Into Machines (2016)

Meanwhile, Bells Into Machines were releasing their debut album. Who the fuck is this you ask?

Well, Chris Connelly and Paul Barker announced Bells Into Machines sometimes back in 2012… and then nothing. But then songs started trickling out. Eventually, it was revealed that other members were Lee Popa, who did sound on The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour, and Killing Joke’s Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions tour, Toby Wright, who has produced every heavy band under the sun, producer and guitarist Brian Diemar, and Janne Jarvis who was in Warrior Soul (?!).

Connelly said that the name Bells Into Machines is not because of his band The Bells, and not because of Lead Into Gold, but because when Stalin took over the Soviet Union, he melted down the church bells and used the steel for machinery. Fun and uplifting!

The individuals created the music through file sharing exclusively (take that, Lars!), with no real discussion on what direction they were going, which makes for an eclectic listen. There’s next to no info on this collective, and nothing really about who does what, except that Connelly said this is stuff that had been in the making for a long, long time. There’s never been a live show, and there isn’t any information about whether or not the collective will work together again.

Allegedly, there is more material recorded that was planned for released in 2018, but here we are, and there’s nothing yet.

The Cocks: Big Sexy Land

In 2017, Barker, Richard 23, Connelly, and Luc Van Acker (Beligan Megastar!) reunited to play Big Sexy Land in its entirety (and a few additional RevCo songs) for 6 U.S. dates. There isn’t really anything else to say about it, I just think it’s neat.

Lead Into Gold – A Savage Gift (2018) / Lead Into Gold – The Sun Behind the Sun (2018)

Barker returns with actual new music for Lead Into Gold. First the non-album single A Savage Gift.

Then, the album The Sun Behind the Sun. Both releases are typical of where Barker is at musically, but the album has live drums from Bill Rielfin and Jeff Friedl (Puscifier; whom Barker joined on tour in 2017). The album is really good, lots of synth and bass (of course). For reasons I can’t articulate, the title-track really strikes me in an emotional way.

Ministry – AmeriKKKant (2018)

After the death of Scaccia, Jourgensen was bombarded with questions about the future or Ministry. Of course, he responded negatively to those questions. “When I was asked, it was after Mikey passed and the entire media immediately starts asking me what is going to happen to Ministry,” Jourgensen said in 2016. “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.’”

Jourgensen assembled some of the usual suspects. Guitarist Sin Quirin, Static-X bassist Tony Campos, and Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell are back, as is keyboardist John Bechdel. Incoming is drummer Roy Mayorga (Stone Sour / Soulfly), Marston Smith (Lord of the Cello), Arabian Prince (N.W.A.), bassist Jason Christopher (Prong), and… Mexican professional boxer Cesar Soto? Also, on board is Liz Watson, Jourgensen’s new road manager and main squeeze since he and Angie split in 2014.

The result is AmeriKKKant, released on Nuclear Blast on March 9, 2018. Truthfully, it’s not the best Ministry album, but it’s the best since Houses of the Molé. It breaks from the bad trappings of the last few albums, there are actual tempo changes, and the live drums (some are programmed) really help it not sound so flat. There are a lot of timely samples on the record (hopefully not by the time this posts), and frankly, I find it hard to hear. The Annoying Orange is impossible to escape, and I don’t like having to contend with it in my entertainment… but he is shining a light on it, so he’s trying to do a good thing. “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?”

Cocksure – Be Rich (2018) / Cocksure – Operation C.O.C.K.S.U.R.E. (2020) / NUKES – Death Sky (2020)

Cocksure is still quite prolific (they released a single in 2016, Heretic Hypocrite, that I didn’t find a place to mention before now). Their third album, Be Rich, was released in September 2018, and it bridges “the gap between Wax Trax! era industrial & futuristic sounds of mass corruption.” Sure, who am I to argue?

In 2020, Cocksure released the EP Operation C.O.C.K.S.U.R.E., and I hate typing it out, so that’ll be the last time.

NUKES is some sort of collective, not much out there about it, but the first (and currently only single) features Connelly and Bechdel. (The song is cool, but the video is incredibly cheap and unimpressive)

Connelly has been doing a lot of guesting on other tracks lately, and I can’t post them all, but I thought this one released this year with SINE (whom I’ve never heard) was really good.

So (Now) What?

In a move that no one expected, Chris Connelly joined Ministry on stage on April 7, 2018, for a rendition of “So What”. Connelly said, “I realized that day, after being reunited, that he is family to me; always has been, and I have a very deep love for the man. It was euphoric to be onstage again and it felt natural.”

Also, in 2018, Jourgensen and Paul Barker buried the hatchet after they were in close proximity after doing Q&A panels for Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story. They have not worked together, but Jourgensen says he is excited to collaborate very soon.

(Angie Jourgensen said that she was not “the Yoko Ono of Ministry”, but as soon as she’s out of the picture, Jourgensen is mending fences. Make of it what you will.)

Connelly was going to tour as a member of Ministry in 2020, with openers KMFDM and Front Line Assembly, but a stupid global pandemic put that to rest.

Sadly, drummer and multi-instrumentalist Bill Rieflin died on March 24, 2020 from cancer at the age of 59. Ministry posted on Twitter: “Today we lost a wonderful artist, tremendous human being and an integral part of Ministry’s developments and success… Safe travels my brother on the way to your next universal gig.” Connelly posted a very long and lovely tribute, which you can read here, but in closing he said, “Bill recognized something in me and not only did he bring it out, but he embellished it, as I think I saw in him too. I LOVE that we got to make this beautiful music together, and I am so grateful that this happened in my life. I am heartbroken that I will not get to do it with him again, but I still have the gifts he gave me that I use in my creative process every day. What a beautiful, kindhearted soul.”

So, that’s that. It’s hard to say what the future holds for these guys, hopefully we’ll get some new (good) music sooner rather than later. Thanks for hanging in there and following along!