Relapse is Ministry's first studio album featuring original material since 2007's The Last Sucker, marking the longest gap, to date, between their studio albums. The band previously broke up in 2008 and Jourgensen had since stated that a reunion would never happen. In the November 2008 issue of Hustler Magazine, Jourgensen said that the reason they were breaking up was that they "take up so much time" as well as the hassle of getting out new albums. He also said he was responsible for six other bands and can get seven albums done a year while not working on new Ministry material.
Ministry ended their hiatus on August 7, 2011, when it was announced that they were going to play at Germany's Wacken Open Air festival, set to take place August 2–4, 2012. Later that month, Jourgensen told Metal Hammer that Ministry had begun work on Relapse, which they hope to release by Christmas. Regarding the sound of the new material, he explained, "We've only got five songs to go. I've been listening to it the last couple of weeks and I wasn't really in the mood, I was just taking it as a joke. Just to pass the time at first but [Mikey's] raving about it. It's like, dude c'mon, this is not about Bush, so… that parts over. The ulcers are gone and Bush is gone so it's time for something new. I think this is actually gonna wind up being the fastest and heaviest record I've ever done. Just because we did it as anti-therapy therapy against the country music we would just take days off and thrash faster than I've done in a long time, faster than Mikey's done in a long time. He just did a Rigor Mortis tour and said it was easy compared to this Ministry stuff so it's gonna be brutal and it's gonna freak a lot of people out."
Ministry announced on their website that they entered the studio on September 1, 2011 with engineer Sammy D'Ambruoso to begin recording Relapse. The song "Ghouldiggers" explains Al Jourgensen's belief on the way the music industry capitalizes on a musician's death.
The cover art was revealed on December 19, 2011. "99 Percenters" was released a single to promote Relapse. The band released it on iTunes on December 23, 2011, and two days later, began streaming it on their Facebook page. On January 20, 2012, it was announced that "Double Tap" would be released as a maxi-single on February 24.