* * * 1/2 THE MERCY SEAT. "The Mercy Seat." Slash. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then the messy minimalism of this bizarre gospel group may be as unholy as it sounds to the naked ear. But the rhythm section is indeed righteous, and guitarist Gordon Gano, the Violent Femmes' front man, has teamed up with quite a venerating femme in lead singer Zena Von Heppinstall, who huskily wails and twists for Jesus like Tina Turner overcome by the Spirit at a revival meeting. Most of the cuts on the quartet's debut are furious versions of traditional church songs ("Don't Forget About Me," "I've Got a Feeling") transferred from one fervent musical genre, black gospel, to another--namely, punk. Prepare to be inspired. It's akin to the feeling of hearing the obnoxious blast of the Modern Lovers or Sex Pistols for the first time, albeit in the service of "a joyful noise."