Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Ministry.
Directed by H-Gun and Dead Batteries, Inc.
(Warner-Reprise Video, color and b&w, 58 mins.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Alain Jourgenson's Chicago-based Ministry are the most commercially potent standard-bearers of a strange punk-metal-disco amalgam known as industrial. This music is so brutal that reliable rock adjectives like "loud" and "ugly" don't do it justice. Yet however forbidding and original the band's bellowed incitements to riot, relentless percussion, and great molten sheets of guitar and synth noise, Ministry's albums go gold. Hidden in the din are hook riffs and catchy refrains, and the fierce pessimism is something modern young people can relate to. The tour this video documents marched though 36 American cities.

Even if you don't buy Ministry's bleak worldview, the band's music is a nice slap in the face. But its concert video is an unmitigated classic. Operating from behind a cyclone fence that provides both an image of imprisonment and protection from their stage-diving audience, they get a lot of theatre out of a bare-bones stage concept, mostly because their fans are so into acting out that they fill in the blanks. The video exploits this advantage gleefully--cannily framed and frenetically edited, the roiling mass of young crazies vying for position up front seem to come straight out of the sci-fi inferno Ministry's music evokes.

Of course, the fire-eater is also a nice touch. And when the concert material gets thin, the directors don't hesitate to meld in eyeblinks of newsreel that reminded us of the haunting if overly avant videos of their distant forerunners Cabaret Voltaire--except that it's over so fast it never contravenes the show's fundamentally realistic aesthetic. Our only disappointment was that the tape didn't climax with the flag-burning it builds toward. This band knows what to do with a big fat nay-saying cliche.

Video Review, Sept. 1990