Industrial-Metal Greats Ministry Bring Tour to the Warfield in San Francisco
By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A powerhouse bill of three influential bands takes over the Warfield Saturday as industrial giants Ministry bring their current tour with heavy music mavericks the Melvins and punk-metal favorites Corrosion of Conformity to SF.
Frontman and Ministry mastermind Al Jourgensen may have scored his first hit with the band's dark synth-pop dance anthem "I'm Falling" for the independentWax Trax Records imprint in 1981, but the Chicago-based group did not stick with its initial commercially successful formula for long. Despite showing a knack for catchy tunes that led to a deal with Arista Records -- along with subsequent hits featured on Ministry's debut With Sympathy and success the band had supporting the Police -- Jourgensen felt this vision had been watered down by the label. He parted ways with Arista, returning to Wax Trax to release a number of darker 12" singles that showed the growing influence of industrial dance acts like Front 242 and Cabaret Voltaire
By the time the band signed a new deal with Sire Records and released Twitch in 1986, the influence of hardcore punk on Jourgensen as well as primary collaborator Paul Barker had nudged the group's sound in a heavier direction with faster, more aggressive drum programming and audio samples. By the time Ministry issued The Land of Rape and Honey two years later, the band's transformation into pioneering industrial titans was complete.
That album, along with the progressively more metallic follow-up efforts The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69 -- and the band's over-the-top stage show with a volatile line-up of industrial all-stars including powerhouse dueling drummers Bill Reiflin and Martin Atkins (formerly of Public Image Ltd. and Killing Joke), Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre and Revolting Cocks mainstay Chris Connelly -- broke the band to a wider audience despite (or possibly because of) the subversive nature of the music. Jourgensen also cultivated an ever-growing number of side projects, including the aforementioned Revolting Cocks (started in 1984 with Front 242's Richard 23 and Belgian musician Luc Van Acker), industrial punk bands Pailhead (with Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi) and Lard (with Jello Biafra) and 1000 Homo DJs with Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor.
The band would be invited to play the second edition of the Lollapalooza Tour in 1992 alongside the headlining Red Hot Chili Peppers and then rising Seattle bands Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, exposing even more young minds to Jourgensen's twisted vision. The group would see a decline in its fortunes and popularity as the decade wore on and Jorgensen struggled with addiction, eventually putting his substance-abuse problems behind him. Ministry would emerge with renewed fury in the 2000s as Jorgensen took inspiration from the second Iraq War and the presidency of George W. Bush to fuel some of the most venomous and political songs of his career.
While the singer announced the band would end after the death of longtime guitarist Mike Scaccia in 2012 (a year after Ministry had reformed following a "farewell" tour and earlier "retirement"), the band has remained an indelible force on the industrial-metal scene with the Trump presidency inspiring another round of politically-charged anthems from Jourgensen, culminating in last year's vitriol-filled collection Moral Hygiene.
Ministry originally announced their "Industrial Strength Tour" in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic brought live music to a grinding halt. Jourgensen and the current line-up of the band featuring keyboard player John Bechdel (Killing Joke, Fear Factory, Prong) and former Tool bassist Paul D'Amour at last bring their rescheduled retrospective tour focusing on the brutal, classic-era industrial/metal tunes from The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69 to the Warfield this Saturday with support from the Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity..
Over the course of a 35+ year career playing by their own rules, guitarist Buzz Osborne and monster drummer Dale Crover have co-piloted seminal underground rock band the Melvins through a wildly diverse exploration of heavy music. Inspired by the slow tempos and down-tuned guitar sludge of Black Sabbath as well as the dissonance of punk iconoclasts Flipper and My War-era Black Flag, the Melvins became legends in Washington State during their formative years in the early-to-mid 1980s after being founded in the small town of Montesano.
The band's combination of crushing riffs and lumbering grooves would end up influencing the entire Northwest music scene. Aberdeen natives and early fans Kurt Cobain (who at one point auditioned for the band) and Krist Novoselic were inspired to form Nirvana, while fellow grunge heavyweights like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden similarly updated the Sabbath template. The Melvins have been credited as a cornerstone inspiration for a number of heavy rock subgenres, providing the template for stoner-rock bands and experimental drone terrorists alike.
With a revolving cast of bassists, the Melvins have produced a veritable landslide of experimentally minded releases that have consistently pushed the envelope of alternative rock. Whether recording for major label Atlantic during the early '90s or issuing discs on numerous independent imprints, the group has forged a singular, instantly recognizable sound without ever being afraid to make major experimental detours. The band has received piles of critical accolades since the start of its collaboration with with equally heavy duo Big Business featuring bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis a decade ago with the celebrated effort (A) Senile Animal in 2006.
Powered by a massive two-drummer onslaught (the two players used a huge overlapping kit that shared some drums), that album and follow-up recordings Nude with Boots and The Bride Screamed Murder spotlit Osborne's twisted, tuneful riffs and some of the band's catchiest output yet. The group would also branch out with other collaborators, partnering with noted avant-rock bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, John Zorn) on an album and a record-breaking tour that had the trio playing 50 states and Washington, D.C. in 51 days with Dunn sticking exclusively to acoustic bass, reuniting with original drummer Mike Dillard (with Crover switching to bass), issuing a guest-packed collection of cover songs (Everybody Loves Sausages in 2013) and recording with Butthole Surfers members Paul Leary and bassist J.D. Pinkus (who had already served as a frequent touring member of the band).
In 2016, the group managed to further ramp up its already prolific output. In addition to Sub Pop issuing a set of long-shelved recordings with godheadSilo bassist Mike Kunka that were recorded back in the late '90s (credited to Mike and the Melvins and entitled Three Men and a Baby), the band toured extensively with latest bass-playing recruit Steven McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF! fame to promote their another more recent release. The Ipecac Records effort Basses Loaded featured newer material recorded with McDonald as well as songs featuring a variety of recent bassists and a guest spot from Novoselic himself.
In addition playing some shows in conjunction with screenings of the documentary The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale by co-directors Bob Hannam and Ryan Sutherby, the band members also found the time to collaborate with with singer Terri Genderbender (Le Butcherettes) and Omar Rodríguez-López (The Mars Volta, At the Drive-In) in the new group Crystal Fairy for an eponymous effort on Ipecac as well as recording their first double album, A Walk With Love and Death.
The 2017 collection matched an album's worth of more traditional Melvins material with a second set of experimental recordings that serve as the score to an avant-garde short film entitled Love made by band friend and director Jesse Nieminen. Crover has also released his solo debut The Fickle Finger of Fate via Joyful Noise Recordings. While he had already made a number of albums as the leader of his side project band Altamont, the effort gave Crover a chance to stretch out on everything from drum experiments to fractured pop tunes.
Having already brought the band's explosive two-drummer line-up to fans, the Melvins presented another mutant version of the band with its 2018 album Pinkus Abortion Technician that features both Pinkus and McDonald playing bass. A rare exception to Melvins releases that are usually dominated by songs written by Osborne, the new effort includes a couple of reworked Butthole Surfers songs (including a twisted mash-up of the R&B/rock standard "Stop" with the Surfers song "Moving to Florida"), a warped cover of the Beatles' standard "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and a mix of originals penned by Crover, Pinkus and McDonald.
While the prolific band uncharacteristically did not release a new album in 2019, the Melvins performed at an all-star tribute to the late Soundgarden singer Christ Cornell at the Forum in Los Angeles in January before an extensive tour with the two-bassist line-up. They also issued a new four-song collaborative EP recorded with avowed inspiration Flipper that included the Melvins covering a pair of Flipper songs along with two tunes with the two groups' members playing together.
The Melvins faced the pandemic downtime without touring by ramping up their work in the studio that came out last year. In addition to releasing a new effort Working With God that featured the 1983 version of the group reuniting again, the trio also issued Five-Legged Dog, a sprawling double disc acoustic collection with new recordings of songs from throughout the band's career as well as some new or reimagined covers of tunes by the Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson, the Turtles and Alice Cooper.
Opening the show will be crossover punk/metal legends Corrosion of Conformity. For closing on four decades, the band has been helping shape the sound of heavy music with its unique explorations of hardcore punk and metal. Founded Raleigh, NC, in 1982 by main members Mike Dean (bass/vocals), Reed Mullin (drums/vocals) and guitarist Woody Weatherman, COC would release two seminal albums that brought elements of thrash metal into hardcore.
The band's 1984 debut Eye For An Eye (and only album with singer Eric Eycke) put the group on the map in the underground punk and metal community and is cited along with DRI's early recordings as one of the first crossover efforts. The band would continue as a trio with Dean and Mullin sharing vocals on the equally classic follow-up album Animosity the next year. COC recruited new lead singer Simon Bob for their next recording, the Technocracy EP, but by 1987 both Dean and Bob left the group, putting it on hiatus.
When COC reformed with new singer Karl Agell, bassist Phil Swisher and second guitarist Pepper Keenan for the recording of 1991's Blind, it marked a new southern-tinged metal direction and a new beginning. Though it was the only tune to feature Keenan's vocals, "Vote with a Bullet" became a breakthrough MTV hit and raised the band's profile considerably.
Keenan would become the focal point of the band after the departure of Agell (Swisher would also leave, replaced by a returning Dean), and the band would score another hit with their landmark 1994 album Deliverance. While the band remained a popular live act and toured regularly as support for Metallica, subsequent efforts didn't achieve the same commercial success.
The departure of Mullin in 2000 would slow productivity, the band managed a celebrated comeback with their 2005 album In the Arms of God that featured Keenan's New Orleans friend and monster drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic, Garage a Trois). After a successful tour with Motorhead, the band went on another extended hiatus that found Keenan focusing his energy on metal supergroup Down with former Pantera singer Phil Anslesmo.
Fans rejoiced in 2010 when the classic Animosity line-up of COC reunited to play its classic early material, but the band gave them even more to cheer about with the release of several acclaimed new recordings that found the trio moving easily from more frenetic punk sounds to tuned-down, Sabbath-influenced sludge. Late in 2014, COC announced that Keenan would be returning to the fold for the first time in almost a decade.
The reunion of the Deliverance line-up was greeted by ecstatic audiences thrilled to hear the group's '90s material as COC toured extensively, playing shows and festivals over the next several years while working on material for their first album with Keenan since 2005. That effort, No Cross No Crown -- the band's tenth overall album -- was released in 2018 on Nuclear Blast Records to wide acclaim. Packed with punishing tracks like "Cast the First Stone," "Little Man" and a crushing cover of Queen's "Son and Daughter," the albums shows line-up's trademark southern-tinged Sabbathy stomp is still intact. While drummer Mullin sadly passed away in early 2020, the band has soldiered on with British drummer John Green stepping behind the kit.
Ministry with Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity
Saturday, April 16, 7 p.m. $48.50-$60
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