Youâ€™ve got to give it to Melvins: these guys keep you on your toes.
The trio, now featuring Redd Krossâ€™ 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 youâ€™ve been following the wondrous, beatific arc of the bandâ€™s 34-year career.
While A Walk With Love and Death marks the first full-length appearance of classic Melvins tune â€œEuthanasia,â€ donâ€™t go in expecting to hear just the same crunch and roar. Like Hostile Ambient Takeover, one of the groupâ€™s finer outings, Death, the first half of the outing and a Melvins record proper, is a textured and nuanced beast, from the moody â€œSober-delic,â€ with its crystalline guitars, half-whispered verses and withdrawn drum patter, to the Tool-ish â€œFlaming Creature.â€ Though clearly a Melvins record â€“ whatever that means â€“ King Buzzo in particular sounds preoccupied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 youâ€™re willing to let down your guard and not expect â€œThe Bloated Pope,â€ though the band, it must be said, is still miles away from weak-kneed territory. (The guitar solo on â€œSober-delic,â€ a spacious and almost bluesy lament, proves that and then some.)
The band, flat out, also just sounds like itâ€™s having fun and MacDonaldâ€™s comfort with the line-up is obvious. (Writ large: the single â€œChrist Hammer,â€ with choppy guitar and bass refrains that give way to a positively poppy vocal bridge.) On a track like the closer, â€œCardboard Negro,â€ MacDonaldâ€™s bass and backing vocals keep the early verses from falling into a monochromatic death march â€“ not like thatâ€™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. â€œGive It To Me,â€ â€œScoobaâ€ and â€œEat Yourself Outâ€ are funny and oft-excellent, and â€œQueen Powder Partyâ€ is menacing, in a Prick kind of vein, but tracks like â€œThe Hidden Joice,â€ 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 isnâ€™t to say the package doesnâ€™t work; far from it, each LP complements each other, with the serious and tone-conscious Death playing yin to Loveâ€™s flagrantly experimental yang. The second half of the outing isnâ€™t easy listening but it can be rewarding and shows Melvinsâ€™ 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 groupâ€™s ever cut to tape. It ainâ€™t Bullhead, for sure, but give it a chance and, even if youâ€™re on your toes, it will knock you the fuck down.