Ministry reveals plans to remake songs from With Sympathy

Al Jourgensen is feeling nostalgic.


On Friday, news broke that industrial music titans Ministry plan to re-record portions of their 1983 debut album, With Sympathy. The news comes from an exclusive interview with Yahoo Entertainment, and normally I’d find this story hard to believe if Yahoo didn’t post video of Al Jourgensen saying it himself.

According to the interview, Ministry has already entered the studio to re-record With Sympathy’s standout cut, “Revenge.” If that goes well, they’ll rework three more tracks: “Effigy,” “Work for Love,” and “Here We Go.”

It should be noted that Ministry’s current lineup intends to remake the songs into their heavier, angrier style, effectively eliminating any trace of synthpop.

“Hearing these songs updated with this band that I have now is pretty amazing… [The new versions will be] a lot more guitar-driven, but not metal. It’s pop—it’s still pop. Just, we’ve done it in a way that I think everyone is going to enjoy and see the 40-year progression of how you wrestle with an alligator.”

Al Jourgensen famously hates With Sympathy

Most Ministry fans are aware that Al has long disavowed With Sympathy, once famously calling it a “sonic abortion.” In the Yahoo interview, he recounts the story of being a struggling young artist signed to a major label and being forced to makeover his look and sound in the New Wave style that was popular in the ’80s.

What the Yahoo article doesn’t mention is that there’s plenty of evidence that Al is dabbling in a bit of revisionist history. Former bandmates and his ex-wife say that he discovered hardcore music after With Sympathy’s release and that he was emulating his favorite New Wave bands. The British accent he affected on the record certainly supports that.

There’s a strong whiff of anti-synthpop sentiment throughout Al’s interview, and he takes a few digs at legacy artists like ABC and Thompson Twins. It’s kind of hard to believe that synthpop has existed for nearly 50 years, yet still faces tired accusations of being too soft or sentimental. I can’t help but recall that harsh music genres from EBM to hair metal grew out of a backlash to synthpop, and much of that backlash was rooted in homophobia and misogyny.

The truth is that With Sympathy is a bona fide synthpop classic on par with early releases from Gary Numan and Depeche Mode. Remaking any of the songs on With Sympathy is completely unnecessary and turning them into industrial-metal tracks is, frankly, ridiculous.

But I think I get why he’s doing it. In the Yahoo interview, Uncle Al sounds nostalgic—he talks about ending Ministry and wrapping up his illustrious career. A final tour may serve as a Ministry retrospective, which would be incomplete without With Sympathy. The new versions will probably be a better fit for the format of their current sound.

Real growth though would be recognizing that synthpop is a valid artform and With Sympathy is a good album that was a product of its time. Al’s attitude here serves as a stark contrast to NIN’s Trent Reznor, who has consistently embraced his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. Much like Ministry, NIN faced record label meddling and turned to a much heavier sound on future releases. Yet they’ve managed to work Pretty Hate Machine songs into their current setlists without sacrificing the essence of what made them special.

Artists re-recording their old songs is nothing new

Jokers on the internet immediately began comparing the news to pop star Taylor Swift, who is re-recording her earlier material following a dispute with a sketchy record executive who purchased the rights to her masters. With Sympathy (Al’s Version), they’ve already dubbed it.

But this situation sounds remarkably similar to another story that’s a bit closer to home.

In 2015, industrial-pop act Aesthetic Perfection re-recorded the album Blood Spills Not Far From the Wound, which had been released 13 years earlier under the moniker Necessary Response. That album, stacked with futurepop bangers from beginning to end, includes the goth club classics “Spilling Blood” and “Forever.”

Like Al Jourgensen, AP frontman Daniel Graves has disavowed the Necessary Response album, calling it “a desecration of his artistic vision.” He says his label at the time refused to release the songs as Aesthetic Perfection, which they wanted to mold as an aggrotech project.

The re-recorded version of Blood Spills updates the sound and vocals with a bit of a rougher edge that better resembles modern-day Aesthetic Perfection. It was a completely unnecessary remake of an already phenomenal album. But I get why Daniel did it.

I do appreciate that AP has made no attempt to eliminate the original Blood Spills Not Far From the Wound from streaming services, and I’ll continue to listen to it instead of the remakes. Just as I’ll likely continue to enjoy the original With Sympathy instead of the forthcoming remakes.

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