May 4, 2016 Surgical Meth Machine – Surgical Meth Machine (Album Review)
Al Jourgensen knows how to name a band. From Ministry to Revolting Cocks, Jourgensen has a penchant for encapsulating all things sinister and ridiculous. His latest foray is no exception. Surgical Meth Machine is, without a doubt, one of the most ridiculous band names off all time, falling somewhere in between Butthole Surfers and Anal Cunt. Although, it is easy to imagine that was Jourgensen’s intention; a controversial, silly title that gets people to check it out, simply out of curiosity. Mission accomplished Uncle Al!
With that stated, Surgical Meth Machine is an Industrial Metal band, which makes sense since Jourgensen has been pioneering the genre for thirty-five years now. An argument could be made for classifying it as Speed Metal, however, since the self-titled album via Nuclear Blast Records contains passages of heavy shredding and drumming that oftentimes exceeds 220 beats-per-minute. Regardless of minutia, this 40-minute album released on April 15, 2016 is sure to earn Rock horns from every Metalhead for at least a few tracks. Along with co-producer Sam D’Ambruoso, Jourgensen has crafted an intense and somewhat eclectic debut album, with pieces that are standard fare for the genre, as well as some surprise tones and beats that hopefully are a sign of things to come from the two-man group.
The opening track is “I’m Sensitive,” which could serve as the anthem for disenfranchised artists everywhere who struggle with harassment from online commentators, if it was not for that fact that Surgical Meth Machine is actually mocking people who allow strangers to hurt their feelings. The song begins with melodic, enchanting drumming, while Jourgensen explains to the listener that he cannot understand why people online are so cruel. After this hypnotic intro, the drumming doubles (at the very least) in tempo and the guitar begins feeling schizophrenic as our narrator angrily and repetitiously tells us how he really feels about his critics. It is a unique, fun, and intense way to kick off an album, easily one of the coolest openers in the past few years.
The tracks “Tragic Alert,” “I Want More,” “Rich People Problems,” “I Don’t Wanna,” and “Smash and Grab” are next. Aside from different titles and themes, they share common instrumentals, song length, and vocals, which the listener will either love or hate. Fans of hyper-fast percussion, multiple audio samples, and Sci-Fi-like ambiances will prefer this chunk of the album in particular, as the latter-half departs from traditional Industrial/Speed Metal and flirts with other, less aggressive genres.
Then there is “Unlistenable,” which marks the transition away from the mood established by the first six tracks. While it still contains beats-per-minute in the low-to-mid 200s, it is much more frenetic and disjointed, with time signatures and tempos that skip around and fluctuate with little to no pattern. The audio skips and spins around the speakers, propelled by a wall of competing sounds that disappears and re-emerges with no warning. It is a hodgepodge of avant garde percussion and random effects, interlaced with audio samples that range from Satanic to Hillbilly-ish, and listening to it sober makes the listener feel like they just took their fourth hit of meth for the night and their heart is about to give out. In other words, it is awesome.
Next is “Gates of Steel,” a Devo cover that feels like Baroness and Andrew W. K. teamed up to re-imagine the classic song. It is the album’s first potential radio hit, with a more listener-friendly tempo, tone, and vocals. It is also a surprisingly enjoyable track that may well prove to be Surgical Meth Machine’s best work on the album. Proceeding this cut is “Spudnik,” which keeps the exact same instrumentals (with some very minor variations) that drops the vocals and opts for audio samples that seem to have come from various news broadcasts and NASA recordings. It maintains the lighthearted feeling from its predecessor, and it is a welcome reprieve from the album’s first-half onslaught.
Later on, “Just Go Home” and “Just Keep Going” mark another shift in the album, this time toward Shpongle-like Psychedelic Jam music. Quirky, chill, and distorted, the instrumentals and samples seem to be guiding the listener through a drug-induced spiritual experience on their way to self-realization. It is a sensible interlude before the final track. That comes with “I’m Invisible,” which marks the end of the album, and it serves as an interesting contrast to the opening tracks. Instrumentally, it resembles something off of a Jay Z album, with its use of piano and slowed-down percussion. It features a ’60s Surfer guitar, the vocals are dreamlike, and the song as a whole is unlike anything else off of the album. In fact, the song is unlike anything Jourgensen has ever done, period. For those familiar with David Lynch, this song would fit in perfectly on the Mulholland Drive soundtrack.
Jourgensen has said in interviews that he originally intended every track to be at least 220-beats-per-minute, but that getting his medical marijuana card changed his perspective and slowed things down. The first half of the album definitely stayed true to his original vision, but thank goodness for the shift in direction that takes place during the second half. The first seven tracks are some of the most intense music ever recorded, but a whole album of it would have been taxing. From “Gates of Steel” onward, the listener is treated to a wider array of Jourgensen’s talents, and the album is much better for it. If the last few tracks are any indication of where Surgical Meth Machine goes from here, the future looks pretty bright for the Ministry frontman’s latest project. CrypticRock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.