Few bands have left such a lasting, unique mark on the face of modern music yet received such a lack of critical respect as the Melvins. According to the "experts," the new Melvins album is too experimental, or too reactionary, or too self-aware, or too...frankly, I think most people's ears are just too tender for the brute force that is the sonic onslaught called the Melvins.
Although they've used thick stoner rock as the base of their sound, their Black Sabbath background seems to operate as more of a springboard to jump off into wacky and wackier sound adventures, attacking hardcore punk, techno remixes, ambient drone and musique concrète with their burly arms. In either an attempt to make their argument as the heavy metal Frank Zappas, or simply as a way of saying "thanks for sticking with us, dudes" to their fans, the Melvins have released a massive 13-disc, limited-edition, tour-only box set comprising of their Ipecac Recordings catalogue and a few other independent releases.
The first thing immediately noticeable about he set is the unusual packaging. In fact, the box itself--as well as the individual CD sleeves--were all hand-printed on a printing press from 1894 which was found by the Melvins' art designer, Mackie Osborne. but instead of being low-tech reproductions of the original art, Mackie Osborne created a series of symbols which represent their respective albums in an almost cave painting style as well as often playing off of the original art themes.
The albums stretch from very early Melvins releases to their latest album that was just released earlier this summer, showing their broad range of projects. On Gluey Porch Treatments, the band shows its first quantum leap from hardcore punk to dredge metal, keeping a thick rumbling under the vocals at all times. On The Maggot, the band seems to be in the mode that most people think classically represents the band, with fuzzed-out, blazingly loud, slow riffs, while on The Bootlicker, the band pulls a 180 and keeps the album to a hush for the entire duration.
Then things really get weird. Pigs of the Roman Empire features the massive collaboration with soundman Lustmord on their title track, where creepy ambient sounds morph into a grinding tempo only to suddenly stop and pause for what seems like an eternity, and then continue on in an entirely new ambient direction. On Electroreatard, an entire song is played in reverse only to be followed up by a nine-minute Wipers cover. And of course, there's the album which separates the men from the boys*, the titanic Colossus of Destiny, which seems to be a specifically orchestrated soundclash complete with discordant movements that lasts for an entire hour.
Rounding out the end of the box are the three latest releases, which feature the modern incarnation of the band, having absorbed Big Business. In direct contrast to their earlier works, while the band is still heavy as Uranium, they've really picked up the speed, and the new albums rumble forward with the pacing of their punk days but with the daringness of their mid-period work, as seen by their opening albums with Marine chants, covers of movie themes, the Who and old Irish folk tunes, and the mere fact that of four members, two play the drums.
Throughout the box, it becomes apparent that even if the listener expects the unexpected, he or she will still get what isn't expected. Or something. To call the forays into new territory experiments seems to do disservice to the band, because where an experiment suggests a random idea put to the audience without concern for effectiveness, every move by the band seems to be a tactic strike to either advance the band, challenge the listener or to create something that has not been created before.
While the sheer mass of the set suggests that it's not for new listeners, and lack of rare material means that it isn't necessary to those that already have the albums, the set, with all its twists and turns and singular moments, makes it clear that despite lack of critical notice, the Melvins truly are something important. I'll bet that 3,000 years from now when archeologists uncover an unopened copy of the set (kept in mint condition and never opened to preserve its collectors value), it will be the focus of dissertations, arguments in academia and placed on a well-lit pedestal in the middle of an ancient history museum.
* - Normally, I would also add in the phrase "and the women from the girls," but frankly, I think that would be misrepresenting the Melvins audience. (j/k, j/k, I kid because I love!)
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