June 1, 2012
Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” — from their depleted-uranium juggernaut Vol. 4 — is an airless void of a song. The riff is loud and deep, the drums martial, and Ozzy Osbourne does his singular, ghostly wail from somewhere in the distance. Since the lyrics are about being an acid casualty, a time/space expatriate, or both, Ozzy really does sound like a ghost. His cries are echoes from long ago, still audible in the present day. It’s a perfectly all right song, if you’re into things like songs.
1000 Homo DJs’ cover of “Supernaut,” on the other hand, is the sound of time and space exploding. One of the numerous side projects under Al (Ministry) Jourgensen’s umbrella, “Supernaut” is most famous for roping in a young Trent Reznor on vocals. When Reznor’s record label blocked the recording, Jourgenson redid the vocal track himself, imitating Reznor. Urban legend says that he never actually re-recorded the track — he just distorted Reznor’s vocal and sent it out. The original release, with Jourgenson, is deeper and delivered with more of Uncle Al’s curt bark of a singing style.
What makes “Supernaut” better than any other single Jourgensen did with Ministry, or Reznor did with his own Nine Inch Nails, is how it just might be the one single where neither man gave a fuck. Paul Barker, Jourgensen’s longtime musical partner in Ministry, has told stories of studio perfectionism bordering on the irrational. Reznor, meanwhile, is the Brian Wilson of the 90s, laboring endlessly over richly textured sonic sculptures designed to capture the most primal, teenage emotions. Al and Trent yell on their recordings — a lot. They spew distortion and make beats that can be felt like spinal taps. It’s all carefully considered, precise anger, though. None of their “serious” work has the same recklessness of “Supernaut’s” shaggy metal-psychedelia.
Listen to the sample that opens the track: “Practically every one of the Top 40 records being played on every radio station in the United States is a communication to the children to take a trip — to cop out — to groove…” That’s exactly what Jourgensen and Reznor (and industrial superdrummer Bill Rieflin) did. Instead of going for Sabbath’s stoned Satanic majesty, they sped it up and turned it into a black magic blood ritual — industrial mosh-metal for troubled, angry seekers. Like all great Sabbath songs, “Supernaut” is both thoughtful and stupid; the 1000 Homo DJs version is so loud and frantic it can’t hear itself think.
The Jourgensen version is fine, but Jourgensen was always more at home in the wilds than Reznor. When he screams so loud it sounds like he might choke in the middle of it, it’s in line with Uncle Al’s typical teeth-bared aggression. (And yet, when Ministry re-cut “Supernaut” for its Greatest Fits album, the result was uninspired bordering on offensive.) The unexpurgated Reznor vocal was finally released in the late 90s on a box set of Wax Trax! stuff, and it blows the original (well, “original,” considering that the Reznor cut is the original original) out of the water. When Trent Reznor screams, he’s only capable of making it sound like inhuman anguish — he’s not faring the spaceways, he’s feeling his psyche being torn to ribbons as it bursts from overexpansion. Between the buzzsaw thuggery of the guitars and Reznor’s demented whooping and gargling (check that amazing end montage), 1000 Homo DJs created the 90s’ best vision of cosmic hell.