George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the USA in controversial fashion, after losing the popular vote and benefiting from a Supreme Court decision against Democrat opponent Al Gore in the 2000 election.
“I don’t want to sound like these nutwings now saying Trump won the Biden election – that wasn’t even close – but we should have won that one,” sighs Al Jourgensen today. The Ministry mainman has a closer adversarial relationship with Bush than most, having released a trilogy of albums – 2004’s Houses Of The Molé, 2006’s Rio Grande Blood and 2007’s The Last Sucker – dedicated to lambasting the man and his Republican administration. Ministry were not alone in their reaction to Bush, however, and particularly his ‘war on terror’. While Jourgensen will happily and knowledgeably denounce Bush’s domestic pre-presidential record as the governor of Texas, it was the 9/11 attacks and his reactions to it that both defined his presidency and set a chain of events in motion that are still impacting the global stage.
A week before the attacks on the Twin Towers, System Of A Down released their second album, Toxicity. They got the call to tell them they’d hit the No.1 slot pretty much as they were taking place. Vocalist Serj Tankian responded by penning an online essay titled ‘Understanding Oil’. In it, he questioned America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and pointed out that no one was asking why these people did this “horrific act of violence and destruction”. The backlash was instant, with even his bandmates suggesting he’d gone too far.
“I remember John [Dolmayan, System drummer] asking me, ‘You’re a smart guy, what the fuck are you doing? Are you trying to get us killed?’” Serj told Metal Hammer in 2021. “That’s literally what he told me. I felt so bad. I love these guys and here I am touring with them, and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry – it’s the truth, I swear it’s the truth.’”
As the War On Terror turned to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, System did address the developing situation with songs like Boom! – with its video highlighting anti-war marches and featuring cartoons of Bush, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden as goons of the Apocalypse – and B.Y.O.B. (standing for ‘bring your own bombs’).
Elsewhere, Lamb Of God released their own furious take on the war on terror with their breakthrough 2004 album, Ashes Of The Wake.
“The best I can do is talk to people and write about it, and hope that people will open their eyes, stop being such apathetic cows and vote, singer Randy Blythe told Now Toronto. “We have got to get that monkey out of the office before he kills us all.”
On Bush’s re-election in 2004, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor posted: “The one-two combo of corporate greed and organised religion apparently proved too much for reason, sanity and compassion. It’s a sad and shameful day to be an American.” NIN subsequently dropped out of the 2005 MTV Movie Awards when told they couldn’t use an image of Bush in their performance.
The big names were coming out swinging, but not everyone was so critical. Avenged Sevenfold seemed to go beyond ‘condemn the war, support the troops’ sentiments with the rants of 2007 single Critical Acclaim. But what was really lacking was a groundswell of politicisation running right through the metal scene the way it had during thrash’s heyday or that had always been present in hardcore. Spearheaded by Fat Mike of NOFX, the punk scene produced two Rock Against Bush albums, shows, tours and a Punkvoter coalition that aimed to “turn millions of punk fans into a political force to be reckoned with”.
Not that it did much good for Ministry, who Al Jourgensen says spent years working with voter registration drives only to see George W. Bush win twice. So does he believe the musical protests achieved anything?
“Probably not,” he says. “It’s probably hurt me in a lot of financial ways, but it makes me feel better at least getting it off my chest.”
As for ‘Dubya’ himself, the Ministry frontman’s views changed even
over the course of his band’s of Bush-centred trilogy.
“At the beginning I was not happy with the man,”explains Al. “All Georgy wanted to do was prove to his dad that he’s not a failure and a fuck-up. There’s an egocentric daddy Freudian relationship going on with how many people died and how our economy suffered but by the end I was like, ‘This guy’s just a fucking dolt. He’s a puppet of the system and it’s the system that needs railing against.’ What started with Bush created the monster that is Trump. It’s the system that creates these monsters and I don’t know what it’s going to take to break the system.”