Written and photographed by
Xavier Cattarinich (Ravenkin Photography)
MINISTRY w/ CHELSEA WOLFE and THE GOD BOMBS
@ The Palace Theatre
Calgary, AB, Canada
April 1, 2018
(C) 2018 www.metalmasterkingdom.com
On April 1st, Ministry’s AmeriKKKant North American Tour rolled into Calgary. On that day, the Easter Bunny played a rather cruel April Fools prank on opening act The God Bombs. He deprived them of an audience for much of their set. Yep, the Palace Theatre was practically empty when the Marilyn Manson-esque indie band from New York City hit the stage. And the folk that did show up for their set? They congregated at the back of the room. Strange, indeed. The God Bombs, too, were clearly exasperated by that unusual conduct at a rock concert. Had they encountered some bizarre local cultural practice? To their credit, the lads remained focused and gave the sluggishly growing audience their all, performing songs from their brand new debut EP Hex, released in late March.
He did his best to spark life into the flaccid crowd by leaping into the semi-circular pit at the front of the stage, trying to initiate a mosh. To no avail. While the trio—which also includes drummer Edrick Subervi and guitarist/synth player Jabbath Roa—exuded determination, their performance was hampered by a videographer who moved around with them on stage for the entire set. His distracting presence certainly didn’t score points with the already tough audience.
A full house then greeted doom songstress Chelsea Wolfe’s arrival into the spotlight’s frigid blue glow. The Palace Theatre was the perfect venue for this master shadow weaver’s theatre of pain. Opening with “Carrion Flowers,” Wolfe instantly mesmerized spectators with chilling, dreamlike songs inspired in part by her recurring hospitalization as a child and teen for chronic sleep paralysis—reportedly a major source of inspiration on her latest album, Hiss Spun (2017), as well as on The Abyss (2015). While close to half of her set was drawn from Hiss Spun, she also played pieces from prior recordings, sticking mainly to sludgier compositions in her repertoire. Wolfe more than impressed, and I got the feeling that the audience would have been eager to delve longer and deeper into her haunting mindscapes.
(C) 2018 All rights reserved by www.metalmasterkingdom.com
Photo credit: Xavier Cattarinich
Industrial metal pioneers Ministry then turned things around 180 degrees. The latest incarnation of the band, founded in 1981 by sole remaining original member Al Jourgensen, was in town performing in support of their fourteenth studio release, AmeriKKKant (2018). While detractors have openly questioned whether there is any vitality left in the 59 year-old frontman, those who attended the show witnessed Ministry delivering a powerful—if controversial—visual and auditory spectacle on the grandest scale.
As the lights dimmed and the album’s intro track, “I Know Words,” blared out on the PA, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared on a multitude of screens, declaring that “We will make America great again.” With additional banks of multi-coloured, fluorescent TV props stacked on stage, the whole aesthetic screamed Orwell. Yet rather than disseminating state propaganda through the screens in a Big Brotherly fashion, Ministry instead used them as a platform to mock and criticize America’s current administration and its warmongering tendencies, as well as to highlight the madness, greed, corruption, and social ills plaguing America and beyond.
At long last, Jourgensen stepped up to the tangle of mics nested behind the futuristic, skeletal pulpit at centre stage. He made a timid entry, concealed as he was for the better part of “Twilight Zone” and “Victims Of A Clown” behind the towering contraption’s curtain of metallic wing bones and mics. Jourgensen ceded the spotlight to guest vocalist Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory during the latter number, standing aside and playing rhythm guitar in the meantime. I sympathized with frustrated fans who, for the first three songs, could barely see the star of the show. Nevertheless, Soto and Quirin picked up the slack and did a fine job of connecting with the crowd, and it admittedly was pretty cool that Bell had joined the band on tour. As the night progressed, Jourgensen moved about the stage more frequently and interacted directly with the audience, stirring the front rows into a frenzy.
Given that Jourgensen resurrected Ministry to rail against the Trump regime and the rising popularity of fascist sentiments in America, I was curious to see the extent to which the AmeriKKKant tour would focus on the band’s new material rather than becoming a greatest hits extravaganza, as the tours of so many other groups in their fourth decade of existence inevitably become. Sure enough, Ministry dedicated nearly half of their fifteen-song set (including “I Know Words” and interlude “TV 5-4 Chan”) to compositions from AmeriKKKant, performing an impressive seven of nine tracks from that record. They omitted only its chaff, namely “Game End” and “AmeriKKKa.” Every other number they played that night was political, save “Punch In The Face” (I suppose it may be political in its own shallow way) and crowd pleaser “One More Fix.”
This tour truly was conceived to rage against the newest world order. The Orwellian set dressing and disturbing images on the array of screens, the rally-like atmosphere and dazzling lights, and the energy from both band and audience intensified the impact of the material drawn from AmeriKKKant, making it clear that the album is best appreciated as a live audio-visual spectacle. Although I confess that I am generally sympathetic toward Jourgensen’s socio-political views, I did find myself wondering whether the parade of masked thugs brandishing the red and black Anti-Fascist Action flag—while Ministry performed the gripping yet controversial “Antifa”—was in good taste. Had I seen a band with right-wing leanings waving Nazi flags during their show, I would not have found the display amusing or “entertaining.” I imagine that I wasn’t the only one who felt the same way about the onstage Antifa antics, not to mention the song’s lyrics. Is the thuggery that segments of the Antifa movement engage in somehow more acceptable than the hate speech and fascist violence espoused by right-wing extremists, or is that thuggery to be downplayed as the reprehensible actions of a misguided minority of violent leftist activists that, some have argued, Ministry’s lyrics glorify?
Is it not ironic that a man so critical of warmongering politicians should belt out a litany that repeats over and over how the source of his frustration needs “a punch in the face,” and how “I’m gonna punch you til I break the law” (referring here to the song “Punch In The Face”, if you hadn’t guessed)? Yes, I get unbearable aggravation, revenge fantasies and the catharsis that such fantasies may engender, and of course, metal bands on all sides of the political spectrum thrive on shock and provocation, but if the above questions spark reflection and dialogue, then so much the better.
Ministry wrapped up their main set with breakthrough single “N.W.O.” from Psalm 69 (1992), followed by “Thieves” from The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste (1989). At that point, Jourgensen expressed his appreciation for the warm reception the Calgary fans had shown his band, and assured them that they would be back to play one last song in a few minutes... he just needed a smoke break. I’ve never seen an encore announced so casually before. He went on to invite everyone to join him for an after-party at a local bar. Smoke break done, Ministry concluded the night with “So What.” By then, Lady Liberty was giving the finger to the ruins of New York City, while warplanes and searchlights continued to scour the sky behind her. All in all, Ministry delivered an unforgettable experience that left fans wanting more.
Al Jourgensen - Lead vocals, guitars, programming, harmonica
John Bechdel - Keyboards
Sin Quirin - Guitars
Tony Campos - Bass, backing vocals
Cesar Soto - Guitars, backing vocals
Derek Abrams - Drums
Burton C. Bell - Guest vocalist
DJ Swamp - Live scratcher
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
CHELSEA WOLFE BAND
Chelsea Wolfe - Vocals, guitar
Ben Chisholm - Synth, bass, piano, electronics
Jess Gowrie - Drums
Bryan Tulao - Lead guitar
Label: Sargent House Records
THE GOD BOMBS
Justin Symbol - Vocals
Edrick Subervi - Drums
Jabbath Roa - Guitars, synths