You’ve got to give it to Melvins: these guys keep you on your toes.
The trio, now featuring Redd Kross’ Steve McDonald on bass, has a new double-album out today, A Walk With Love and Death, and it is a bizarre and mesmerizing little opus, a collection that is even more disorienting if you’ve been following the wondrous, beatific arc of the band’s 34-year career.
While A Walk With Love and Death marks the first full-length appearance of classic Melvins tune “Euthanasia,” don’t go in expecting to hear just the same crunch and roar. Like Hostile Ambient Takeover, one of the group’s finer outings, Death, the first half of the outing and a Melvins record proper, is a textured and nuanced beast, from the moody “Sober-delic,” with its crystalline guitars, half-whispered verses and withdrawn drum patter, to the Tool-ish “Flaming Creature.” Though clearly a Melvins record – whatever that means – King Buzzo in particular sounds preoccupied with mustering a more restrained, sometimes psych-inflected sound. And to what effect! The first half of Death is addictive if you’re willing to let down your guard and not expect “The Bloated Pope,” though the band, it must be said, is still miles away from weak-kneed territory. (The guitar solo on “Sober-delic,” a spacious and almost bluesy lament, proves that and then some.)
The band, flat out, also just sounds like it’s having fun and MacDonald’s comfort with the line-up is obvious. (Writ large: the single “Christ Hammer,” with choppy guitar and bass refrains that give way to a positively poppy vocal bridge.) On a track like the closer, “Cardboard Negro,” MacDonald’s bass and backing vocals keep the early verses from falling into a monochromatic death march – not like that’s a bad thing.
Love, the soundtrack to an experimental film, hovers over the surface of things in Colossus of Destiny territory. The record is admirable for what it does to blur the lines between diagetic and non-diagetic sound but mincing it for clues about sonic direction is a tough order. “Give It To Me,” “Scooba” and “Eat Yourself Out” are funny and oft-excellent, and “Queen Powder Party” is menacing, in a Prick kind of vein, but tracks like “The Hidden Joice,” with occasional interjection of below-the-mix narration from what sounds like a piano, are interesting experiments that will find you turning back, instead, to Death.
This isn’t to say the package doesn’t work; far from it, each LP complements each other, with the serious and tone-conscious Death playing yin to Love’s flagrantly experimental yang. The second half of the outing isn’t easy listening but it can be rewarding and shows Melvins’ experimental leanings to have grown by leaps and bounds since similar pieces like Prick or Electroretard. And Death contains some of the most ambitious music the group’s ever cut to tape. It ain’t Bullhead, for sure, but give it a chance and, even if you’re on your toes, it will knock you the fuck down.