When you're a kid playing with your toys, you can do anything. All of a sudden a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is fighting alongside He-Man who's just enlisted the help of Panthro from Thundercats. It may not have made a lot of logical sense, sure, but it still ruled so hard.
That is pretty much what the 1992 Ministy/Helmet/Sepultura tour was like. Brazilian death/thrash metalheads opening for a hermetic New York noiserock crew opening for the midwestern junkie prophets of industrial. Even though this is a show where the freshest material were songs from Arise, Meantime and Psalm 69, it doesn't make a lot of sense. You have to sort of tilt your head and squint to see how some booking agent decided to lump all of them together. But it ended up being an inspired move, and a massive success.
The frontmen for each band—Ministry's Al Jourgensen, Helmet's Page Hamilton and Sepultura's Max Cavalera—share stories from one of the most oddly perfect mixes of diversified brutality in metal history. Get ready for tales of heroin, highway crashes and a puke-covered Eddie Vedder
How did people react to such a non-traditional lineup?
Al Jourgensen: It felt like it was a headliner at 7 o'clock. During Sepultura the place was already packed and the place was going ballistic. It was like getting punched in the stomach, so you lose your wind, then Helmet would kick you in the balls so you'd go down and then Ministry would take a sledgehammer to your head. It was pretty violent. The mosh pit was relentless. It started at Sepultura and just kept getting bigger and bigger so by the time we came out it was like anarchy out there. The real purist metal fans walked away thinking, that wasn't bad at all, and a lot of our fans that were much more into keyboard-driven stuff, would see Sepultura and think “Wow, they are really fucking good.” The word was get there early and no one left early either. I was well aware after maybe like two shows that it wasn't just us. It was something in the air. Something about that time period. It was bigger than us.
Page Hamilton: We thought it would be cool, but didn't really feel like we fit in. Ministry was a machine-based groove and Sepultura was a thrash metal style and we never felt like we were metal or industrial or indie but the cool thing was back then you could have bills like that. They wouldn't do things like that now.
Max Cavalera: We were not used to playing in front of that many people. But it was really good for all of us. We just went out there and headbanged and jumped around. And then Helmet was surprising because they looked like jocks. And Ministry was just on point. There was a lot of powerful shit going on every night.
Why do you think the tour was so successful?
Jourgensen: Right time, people, promotion, venues, the right time of year, the right press. It was all of a sudden cosmically aligned. There were a lot of great bands then that didn't get the hype of that tour and I think it was an anomaly. And some would think it was lucky and some would think unlucky. Like I'm sure the drummer for Helmet thought it was unlucky when they rolled that truck.
Hamilton: Even though we were signed to a major label, and were selling quite well, I was reluctant to spend money on a tour bus. So we were in a van and a Rider rental truck while the other bands were on buses. And that was probably not the wisest because we were headed down to North Carolina and one of the kids fell asleep at the wheel and they rolled the rental truck. John Stanier [drums] broke some ribs, our drum tech broke his leg or foot and our guitar tech was in a coma. It was pretty hairy, so we jumped off the tour. And Body Count filled in for us, graciously. We jumped back on like a week later. Stanier was pretty tough and the drum tech came back with a cast. Our guitar tech joined quite a bit later.
Jourgensen: After the van wreck they put Body Count in their spot and trust me, I missed Helmet. My mom taught me a long time ago, if you got nothing nice to say about someone, don't say a fucking word. So I'll leave them out of this.
Cavalera: Body Count filled in for Helmet. It was the first time we met Ice-T and he was really into Sepultura. He would wear our beanie all the time and give us shout-outs. Ice was funny as hell. And for one show Stone Temple Pilots played and they wanted to go after us. They were all “Oh, we're big and our song's on the radio,” all this bullshit. But we weren't going to break up the package. Their singer went on stage and said, “By the way we're not Sepultura.” Everyone could tell just by looking at them they weren't fucking Sepultura.
How did the bands get along?
Jourgensen: All the Helmet boys were absolutely sweethearts. But Sepultura would pretty much crash on our bus, drink all our fucking liquor and tell us how much we sucked each night. But it was the perfect symbiotic relationship. They'd get drunk and insult us and we didn't care. We weren't drinking liquor because we were all heroin addicts. At one point either Max or Igor had Paul Barker [Minisitry bassist] around the throat, and I'd just done a shot of heroin and walked out of the bathroom and I was like, “Whoa, this is getting weird.”
Hamilton: I don't remember there being any drama between anyone. On Thanksgiving, we had it at Al's house. He had everyone over and his wife at the time and daughter were there and it felt like a big giant brotherhood of musicians.
Cavalera: Everyone was super cool. Super, super nice guys. I remember first meeting one of their crew guys. His name was Bones. He was this crazy fucking roadie with a face tattoo, a full-on biker-type guy, and he was in charge of the stage props for Ministry. It was all kinds of skulls. And he would go and buy crates of skulls. I remember walking around mesmerized, thinking it was so fucking awesome. The Sepultura bus was famous for what we would listen to after we played. We would blast the ultimate death metal at full volume. Carcass and Bolt Thrower and fucking Morbid Angel. We'd be blasting that in the front lounge right after we were done playing. You want metal? You come to the Sepultura bus. That's just how it was.
Do you remember any of the venues?
Jourgensen: I remember playing Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, and I'm a huge hockey fan. We got like 16,000 people for that show, and sitting in the dressing room with all their hall of fame plaques and all that shit. I remember thinking, “Damn, what happened?” The size of the crowds and the energy of the crowds were incredible.
Hamilton: I remember Toronto because I had some amp problems. I went behind the curtain and smashed a hole maybe eight inches deep into the stage. I don't know why I did that but our music is so emotional and this intensity you're feeling to perform at a high level, and then with amp problems it's like somebody's firing a gun at you. It's really frustrating and I think I'd had a few days of that. We played Madison Square Garden, and our amps were so fucking loud. We were louder than the PA. We had four 800-watt guitar amps on either side and two of those for bass and it just sawed people's faces off. But it still wasn't what I was looking for.
Cavalera: At Madison Square Garden I was really excited because it was where Led Zeppelin had played. And then when we started it was all seats. And security was fucking up everyone who was trying to get out of their seats and no stagediving and all this bullshit. And I got super mad. So on the fifth song I stagedived and security grabbed me. One of the guys was gonna punch me and someone stopped him and said, “Don't punch him, he's the singer of the band.” The guy was just seconds away from obliterating my face. They had me in a chokehold. So that was a bit of a letdown. I wanted to go back to the little clubs.
It seems like this tour was oddly popular with celebrities.
Jourgensen: I don't think that was the apex of our TMZ moments. It was building. Neil Young and Tom Petty and members of the Cars came out, and I think it reinvigorated those people because it was a new generation and when you're starting out everything is new to you and it's a lot of fun. And then as you get success and get older and more jaded, you go looking for something to get that spark back and I think that's what all these A-listers were there for. They were there thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember what it was like when it used to be fun.”
Hamilton: Marsha Vlasic, the booking agent, comes into the dressing room and tells me Neil wants to see me. And I'm like, “Neil Neil?” And I go into this stairwell, and Neil Young is sitting there with a Heineken and two hippie-looking buddies of his. And we just talked in the stairwell for like a half hour about amps. It was a super amazing experience. And It was cool to see Gene Simmons show up at some shows. He put his arm around me and said, “Don't play with any hair bands or metal bands – you are the future of the music.” And some girls come up to Gene and he says, “This is Page, how did you like that show?” and she says, “Oh, it was great, did you like it?” He shook his leg and said, “Yeah, I'm still dripping down my leg.” It was a really classic Gene Simmons moment.
Cavalera: All the famous people, we weren't used to that shit. It was crazy. We went to Timothy Leary's house. And in LA the Chili Peppers came to the show. My stepson Dana was alive at the time and he was standing right next to Flea and he told me that Flea sang every word of Arise. And Igor went to a Fugazi show the next day and Flea was there, wearing a Sepultura sweatshirt. So that was pretty kickass. Anthony Kiedis was talking to my stepson Jason, and Anthony thought he spoke Spanish because we speak Portuguese. So he starts speaking Spanish and Jason doesn't understand Spanish so he just punched him in the balls. Just launched one into his balls and was like, “Leave me alone, motherfucker.”
What was the state of your bands at the time?
Jourgensen: We had started to get a measure of success, but even back then the dynamic of the band was blowing apart. The music was still going and we were experimenting and trying different avenues of how we wanted to get our point across, but the band was really going in opposite directions. It was like two Ministry bands at that point – Paul Barker's side of the band and me and Mike Scaccia (guitar) were the outcasts. Even though it was my fucking band we were outcasts. But we were starting to taste some success and we knew we were in a good place, but that tour and Lollapalooza really catapulted the Minstry brand into the collective psyche of that generation. It put us on the map.
Hamilton: We were still in the early phases of the band and we had quick success when you think about it. I went off the rails a bit. I was just having so much fun. Making a fuck-ton of money for a guy who had so many shitty jobs. I look back on it now and think maybe I should have kept my shit together better but I didn't. I banged a lot of girls and did a lot of coke. Every band cliché you can imagine. And it seems stupid but I didn't really care. There are things on that tour that led to me breaking up with my fiancee that I should regret but they were really, really fun. She punched me in the face when I got home cause I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I'm a terrible cheater so I told her. And she just gave me a fist right in the face. And I had that coming.
Any other stories you can share?
Cavalera: In Seattle there were the Soundgarden guys and Pearl Jam. And I got out of control. It was one of those things where I was drinking right after our set and went to the Ministry bus and kept chugging rum and one more chug of the rum and it all came back up. Eddie Vedder was sitting next to me and I unleashed all over his legs. He was surprisingly very friendly about it. My sister was a really big fan so right after I puked on him I asked for an autograph. But then I kept on getting crazier and crazier and Al had finally had enough of me. And when Al has enough of you, it's bad. He gave me three Valium and ordered me to take them and chill out. But I still had the rum. And the tour manager tried to take it from. He used to be in Echo and the Bunnymen. And he went to take the bottle from me and I broke it on his head. Blood was everywhere. I ended up passing out on their bus and when I finally woke up and walked to the front of the bus, the Echo and the Bunnymen guy with a big bandage on his head walked up. I asked him what happened. And he said, “You happened to me.” It was definitely one of top crazy nights I ever had.