THIS MONTH IN METAL No. 7: Ministry’s “The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste”

The Legacy

…And now for the chaos.  Last month we looked at the burgeoning assimilation of industrial influence into the mainstream with Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, fueled by songs of heartbreak and self pity.  The second half of this industrial miniseries within TMIM flips the rusty iron switch back to the metal track of certain death.  That’s right, this month drills the 30th anniversary of Ministry’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste into our skulls, released on November 14, 1989.  If you’re at all familiar with this record, you already get why I’m painting a picture of squeaking metal and skull-drilling.  For those of you who aren’t, you probably aren’t reading this, but I’ll do my best to offer my metal nerditude (honestly, just listen to it and this will make way more sense).  The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste is not only one the most iconic and influential industrial metal albums ever shocked to life, but is in my opinion, the essential.

Original cover design by Dog, Ill, Maura, Photo by Tom Young. Photo: Genius

To preface everything as I did with last month, I am no spokesperson for the industrial genre and this stance is strictly in line with my taste in metal.  That’s right, there’s just mercury gushin’ from my mouth as I write this puny bio so I have an excuse to draw cool metal art.  Back on track.  Ministry’s evolution is totally insane; there’s really no other way to put it.  1983 saw their debut of …With Sympathy, a synth pop/new wave album which is, in my opinion, fantastic.  I know there are lots of Ministry fans who agree with me out there, but we can also agree that it’s just not a Ministry album.  Group mastermind Al Jourgensen renounces the absolute piss out of it, and I totally get it.  The production was entirely out of the band’s control, requiring terrible 80’s dreamboy haircuts and even a fake British accent by request of the label.  While retaining some of the synth-pop elements, 1986’s Twitch (also a great record) took a slightly darker turn, but more importantly taught Uncle Al key lessons about producing.  The hard left…no, uh, gruesome car crash, would be Ministry’s third studio album The Land of Rape and Honey in 1988.  With his hand much deeper into the production than before, Al and most fans would consider this the first true Ministry album.  Their essence of mechanized, sample-heavy metal was born.  Now to the reason why we’re here, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste emerged in 1989, taking all of the elements of The Land of Rape and Honey and giving it just enough more of a rusty metal edge to kill you with tetanus.  The production of was fueled by tension and animosity among the band, resulting in almost every member recording their parts isolated in efforts to not throw chairs (which happened).  Co-writer/co-vocalist Chris Connelly compared it to the surrealist exquisite corpse, being comprised of separated artistic contributions placed out of context in one entity.  You can hear it.

CD packaging back design. Photo: Steve Hoffman Music Forum

Opening track Thieves is an immediate jackhammer to the ear that sets the album’s tone with no hesitation.  Throughout, heavier tracks such as Burning Inside and Breathe keep the metallic consistency, but Ministry doesn’t want you to get comfortable for a minute.  The disease-ridden Cannibal Song caws and pecks at your throat, and So What straps you to a chair to teach a lesson about murderous juvenile delinquency.  Hey, why not, throw a sort-of rap song in there too with Test.  To cap it all off, let Dream Song terrify you with a disembodied voice posing the question: “Do you believe in angels?”  “No,” replies an ambiguous being.  Nothing feels the least bit stable, but the production somehow welds it all together.  Sparks fly and you die, but it’s worth it.

Tools to Treat and Induce Crippling Nausea

30th anniversary tribute artwork

Tools to Treat and Induce Crippling Nausea

If staring at this makes you nauseous, that’s the idea.  I nearly blew chunks while I was editing the “digital sickness” in Photoshop.  Nevertheless, let’s get the obvious out of the way.  It’s an x-ray, just like the album cover (which is actually a scan of a patient suffering from migranes) but that’s just the foundation.  The essence of The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, to me, has always been akin to puzzle pieces jammed into spots that don’t fit to form something new.  I was heavily driven by the psychotic break of Cannibal Song, inspiring me to take the industrial elements and create a gruesome disaster.  Such “puzzle pieces” are thus metal tools, typically used to assist, but instead used to perpetrate.  Everything from screws and scissors to a pectoral cross are jammed up through one figure’s pelvis into their torso.  Of course, these tools don’t belong inside the flesh, but most elements of The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste don’t belong either.  The perpetrator’s fantasies of inserting metal objects into the body just ain’t enough, so they jam their head up through the pelvis and thus shatter it beyond repair.  This botched biomechanical takeover is the ultimate depraved ecstasy, providing a singular moment of clarity amongst the wretched scene.  Everything is a storm of flesh and metal, but by god it’s delicious to a crippled mind.  Ministry managed to keep a disaster in order through productionAs an illustrator I sought to maintain a similar chaotic mess through compositional structure, emphasis and value.  While it may be a wet dream straight out of the metal fetishist in Tetsuo’s fantasies, the illustration process reminded me of the raw power of creators.  One of the reasons I love the metal genre and the darker side of art so much is that, when done with strong enough intent and skill, artists can harness utter chaos into order.  Whether it be of mental illness, spiritual confliction, political strife or simply the daring gaze into the abyss, creators have the will to use it at their disposal for something new and breathtaking.  No, you cannot and should not cram metal objects into your or other people’s bodies, but you can blast some Ministry and make cool shit.

See more heavy hitters in the MONTHLY METAL GALLERY

Are you up to date on your tetanus shot?

–NCM