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Slothrust - The Pact

The Pact is the fourth album from Slothrust since their debut in 2012, and it sees their musical evolution continue. Now relocated from Boston to L.A., the trio maintain their raucous, adventurous songwriting but meld it with a more mature and, dare I say, more mainstream sound. As well as indie heads and punks, fans of classic pop will find much to love in this record. ‘60s touchstones like The Beatles and The Who rub shoulders with Iggy Pop and Blondie, while the gentler moments hit the high notes of ‘80s sophistipop. Bryan Ferry and Hall And Oates, along with dozens of rarely heard but hardwired Sunday afternoon FM radio tunes underpin The Pact.

There’s a danger in casting your musical net so widely that the result can come across as desperate and eager to please but Slothrust sound like they are only out to please themselves. Nothing is done half arsed. ‘Birthday Cake’ out-Hole’s Courtney Love while the opening track, ‘Double Down’, burns like a dynamite fuse during the verses but the prechorus defies any expectations that have built up. The whistled hook pops up like a magician’s bunch of synthetic flowers. It’s dazzling, unexpected and it defines this album from the off.

The opening trio of searing alternative rock tunes gives way to a heartfelt and personal record that, in its openness and variety of sounds, reflects the very best albums of the post rock ‘n’ roll era. There’s as much an influence of Beck on The Pact as there is that of The Ramones. The juxtaposition of the punk rock chops and Jon Entwistle bass breaks on the rousing ‘Planetarium’ with the conventional but captivating ‘Walk Away’ is just one instance of what makes The Pact a record for all occasions.

Slothrust have taken the Max Martin songwriting rulebook and shuffled the pages into their own idiosyncratic but readily identifiable order. It’s always humbling to hear masters at work and The Pact is a work of stunning craftsmanship. Technique can be learned but instinct like this is innate.

Ministry - Amerikkkant

We meet again, Ministry – for the last time! Like a Marvel superhero, the industrial pioneers simply refuse to remain dead. The most recent premature pronouncement of their demise came in 2016 when main-manAl Jourgensen  released an album under the name of Surgical Meth Machine. Barely a year later, Ministry were touring again and now they are back with a new record inspired by the socio-political situation in America. Jourgensen is at pains to point out that AmeriKKKant is not an anti-Trump album. While he may be right that Trump is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, he is nonetheless symbolic of it so, inevitably, the album opens with some painfully distorted soundbites from the incumbent president.

The lengthy intro of multi layered samples builds a sense of foreboding and despair before finally coalescing into an industrial beat and a song about waking up in The Twilight Zone. ‘Victims Of A Clown’ is the second song in as many months to pivot around Charlie Chaplin’s climactic defence of democracy and progress in The Great Dictator, after The Grey Merchants ‘Spotless (The Protecting Veil)’. A selection of samples from talk shows, and voxpops interspersed with glitchy, gunshot beats lead into the first thrash tune on the album. ‘We’re Tired Of It’ features the unmistakable vocals of Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell.

‘Wargasm’ is, disappointingly, not a cover of L7’s Bricks Are Heavy track. It and ‘Antifa’ are mid-tempo tunes, heavily laden with vocal samples, provoking ire around the topics of warmongering and the return of fascism respectively. The latter will make for a great live track with its refrain of “What do we want? /Violence /When do we want it? /Now”, most likely inspired by the viral video of white supremacist Richard Spencer getting decked.

The (kind of) title track, ‘AmeriKKKa’ comes crashing in like a legion of doom to bring things to a close. It’s an eight minute culmination of all that has preceded it, complete with some atypically Hendrix – y guitars; quite fitting for a protest record. When Jourgensen proclaims that he’s “Mad as hell” through the record’s coda, you believe him unquestioningly.

Conceptually, this is brilliantly executed but as it’s an album written as a topical reaction; does it have what it takes to last beyond its currency in the way that ‘N.W.O.’ or ‘Stigmata’ have? I suppose the real question is whether it can compare to Jourgensen’s most recent works. 2016’s Surgical Meth Machine was an ambitious, genre-hopping romp. It mixed the industrial stomp that we’ve come to expect from Ministry with trip hop, and Aphex Twin-style electronica, to great effect. In that sense AmeriKKKant looks tame and safe by comparison.

This record is also lacking a great single to hook the listener in. ‘Antifa’ was the lead single, and with good reason; it’s in the classic Ministry mould of sample heavy headbangers, but it’s no ‘Jesus Built My Hot Rod’. It’s neither brutal enough to demand attention, or hooky enough to enthral. All of which makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy AmeriKKKant, which isn’t accurate. This feels like an important album, even if its significance is limited to inspiring others to create angry, politically charged works. If you’re a Ministry fan, an industrial adherent, or just an admirer of protest music, then this is for you. It just won’t knock Psalm 69 and The Land Of Rape And Honey off the top of anyone’s playlist.

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