Infamous Albums: Ministry’s ‘With Sympathy’

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Edited by Brett Buchanan

Infamous Albums is a new series of articles where Alternative Nation writers take a look at albums that are normally panned by the band’s fanbase, to see if they are as bad as many fans perceive them to be. For this third entry we will take a look at Ministry’s debut album With Sympathy. 

Chicago’s Ministry are one of the most original band’s to come out the 1980’s. Their 3rd album, The Land of Rape and Honey was one of the first releases to mix metal and industrial. The record’s abrasive and chaotic sound led to worldwide praise in both genre’s circles. Their follow up The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, was met with similar acclaim. The next release, Pslam 69, gave the band a taste of commercial success with popular tracks such as “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, “Just One Fix” and “NWO”. The band continues to enjoy a large following to this day, but there was a time where Ministry was a completely different band.

Shoot back to 1983, Ministry were a young band who just got signed to New York’s Arista label. The style of the band was not the industrial metal sound people would later know and love, but rather a style that was far from that. At this point in their career Ministry were a synth pop band.  Vocalist Al Jourgensen has expressed hatred for With Sympathy in many interviews. This record was also out of print until 2012 when it was released on CD for the first time.

First thing that sticks out is Al’s vocals, as he tries his best here to sound British. This can be seen as him trying to copy the vocal style of his idols, kind of like how Mick Jagger sings in a fake southern accent. Several of Al’s early influences such as Joy Division and New Order can be heard throughout this record. The A-side of this album is where it really shines.

The first track, “Effigy (I’m not an)” starts off a little bland, but becomes a decent track pretty quickly. A cool bass synth dominates this track as well as many other layers that fade in and out.

The next song, “Revenge” is the best track on the album and feels like it should have been the opener. If it wasn’t for the fake accent, this song would pretty dark due to its lyrics. A metal remix/re-recording of this song could make it even better.

“I Wanted to Tell Her” is that funk song that every new wave band seems to have. The song would have been better if it was a little shorter.

“Work For Love” is the album’s lead single and it is pretty damn catchy. Not too much to say here, the song does its job of being a nice dance number.

The B-side starts with the track “Here We Go”. This song is the fastest tune on the record. The lyrics are about about being trendy and forced to fit into fads, words that seem personal to Al at the time. Like Revenge, this song could use a metal remix one day.

“Say You’re Sorry” and “She’s Got a Cause” are both boring and forgettable filler tracks. They sound like generic 1980’s songs you would hear in an old slasher or teen comedy.

The final track “What He Say” is the worst on the album. It’s cheesy as all hell lyrically, with guest vocals and out of place bass and trumpet parts making the song borderline laughable.

The band had released many non-album singles around this time. The best of these was “Everyday is Halloween”, released just two years after With Sympathy. This is the best tune from Ministry’s early days and should have made the album. The song has a very dark atmosphere, awesome synth sounds, great vocals, and cool lyrics about intolerance towards goths. In 2010, the band released a metal remix of this song.

All and all With Sympathy isn’t a bad album. Sure, this is no Land of Rape and Honey or Psalm 69, but for what it is, it’s pretty well done. The style leans more towards dark synth-pop like Depeche Mode than ultra cheesy stuff like Duran Duran. The fake British accent is a little ridiculous, but not to the point of ruining the music.  This is a fun record and worth checking out mostly to see how Ministry started.

Ranking: A fun album and worth checking out to see how the band started.