Melvins - Tarantula Heart (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Tarantula Heart (2024)


In any number of interviews, Melvins mastermind Buzz Osborne has stated that since the band has achieved EVERY goal he has set for the band, anything going forward is a bonus. That means, art wise, the band is truly untethered to fan expectations, financial goal posts, and even the internal concept of what a Melvins album “should be.” Perhaps paradoxically, this might be the main thing that has kept people interested in the Melvins and has granted them longevity. Not as paradoxically, it is the exact reason why their art is exciting and not the same album 14 times in a row- I love Motorhead, I love Ac/DC, but does anyone really care about Hammered or Stiff Upper Lip. Yet, I DO care about Tarantula Heart the band’s 34th or so album. I care a lot because it is one of the strongest, and most interesting, entries in their catalogue.

The entire album was built around a sort of experiment. Osborne had long time drummer Dale Crover an guest Roy Mayorga (of Nausea and Amebix!) drum while Osborne and Melvins bassist Steve Mcdonald (one of the main Redd Kross guys) improvised riffage. Then, Osborne deleted the guitar and bass tracks. Then, he brought back Mcdonald, added Gary Chester of Ed Hall and We Are the Asteroid (check out their amazing song with Amy of Amyl and Dani of Surfbort) and recorded NEW parts to the drum tracks which were recorded under a different environment.

Osborne has stated that he doesn’t think anyone would recognize this unless he told us. Does that mean most music fans are not careful listeners? Does it mean drums are mutable always? I don’t know, but now that the cat is out of the bag, it is recognizable here that the drums have a heavier, menacing feel. Like a snake slithering up or a tiger silently creeping behind you, the drums give the whole album a sense of suspense or drama. The way the boom and snap and clack makes the hairs on the back of your neck stick up in a primal instinct- something is off… something bad is out there… but your human mind doesn’t know why… but your primate brain does…

To that end, this is the kind of album Melvins fans adore. It has a low rumble, it changes it up and goes slightly poppy here and there before going full on early Alice Cooper(“She's got weird arms”), it gets pretty weird in some places, and the whole thing seems to spawn out of some vicious hole. For me, Melvins are always best when a sort of cosmic meanness hangs in the background and that specter is seeped into this album.

The main dish here is the side long “Pain Equals Funny.” A multi-part epic, it feels like Pink Floyd and rush got together to write one of their famed concept albums. Id-way through, there is a galactic crashing with Crover and Mayorga smashing in tandem while Osborne lets his slithering guitar do the singing. Mcdonald supplements with this heavy booms that are the polar opposite of Redd Kross’ throwback pop. This section sums up the album in that it’s the band reveling in an oblique negativity all while rocking out. The rest of the song has multiple parts that twist and turn until the ending which ramps up into a straight line grimy charge. The band is clearly having fun while experimenting- but, uh, how come it’s all so listen-able. Usually, albums built off an experimental tool are “challenging” and critics often lie to each other about how it makes a “challenging, but rewarding experience.” I’m thinking about David Byrne’s live album where he did mostly talking heads material but replaced the guitars with fiddles (blaaaarg!).

That’s not the case here. This album rocks. It has an experimental, and maybe sometimes uncomfortable aspect, here and there, but despite the fact that it is totally unique in the Melvins catalogue, it’s one of the most Melvins-y things they’ve ever released.

Also of note is the fantastic art and lyric booklet that come with the album. At this point, much like John Loder with Mick Duffield Crass and Winston Smith with the Dead Kennedys, Mackie Osborne essentially IS a member of the Melvins with her art contributions. Here, the art focuses on anthropomorphic woodland creatures interacting with a Wednesday Adams (or Marissa Paternoster?) type character all the while a Grim Reaper lingers overhead. It fits the album to the point where the album is almost a soundtrack for the art. The ever looming menace in the sound is reflected by the lingering reaper and the astral journey on “Pain” snaps right in the animals which suggest a sort of ancient Pagan representation. Maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there… but isn’t that the point of scary art and scary music like this?