You really do have to take your hat off to the Melvins. They have been doing this shit now for nigh on 35 years but still sound every bit as fresh, exciting and alive as they first did when bursting onto the state of Washington music scene way back in 1983 and they laid down the template for what would then become grunge. Their enduring influence on the genres of grunge, hardcore punk, drone, sludge metal and countless variants thereof cannot be overstated.
The Melvins have been tearing up the rule book ever since they began, continually pushing at what are the outer limits of contemporary music. In that time they have released a staggering number of records – at the last count it was something like 25 studio albums, 14 EPs, a dozen live records and goodness knows how many compilations – never staying in the same creative time or space for far too long. Uncompromising, unapologetic, opaque and often very challenging, it is not music intended for the casual listener. But for those prepared to venture beyond the fringes of ordinary experience, it makes for one supreme sonic exploration.
The one constant in the Melvins’ history is Buzz Osborne. He does not drink, nor does he take drugs. He likes dogs and is partial to a game of golf. Off-stage his persona could rightly be described as conservative. But on-stage Osborne metamorphoses into some radical alchemist of nuclear sight and sound. With his trademark shock of Sideshow Bob hair, velveteen cloak and skittering gait he becomes some modern magician, coaxing wave upon wave of blistering noise from his guitars.
Alongside him is drummer Dale Crover, whose tenure with the Melvins has almost been as long as Osborne’s, and Steve McDonald on bass guitar. By the time that the Melvins take to the Brudenell stage both of these guys have already put in a punishing shift with support act Redd Kross whose playful pastiche on the notion of what rock’n’roll should really be like veers most enthusiastically and entertainingly between that of the New York Dolls and The Darkness. Their cover of Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart’s 60’s toe-tapper ‘I’ll Blow You a Kiss in the Wind’ douses the original’s saccharine taste in truly wanton sleaze.
As their discography suggests, the Melvins have hundreds of tunes to choose from. Tonight they play maybe about 16 or 17 of them. It is difficult to know exactly how many as one glorious avalanche of sound bleeds into the next without nary a pause for breath. They open with the slow burn of ‘Sacrifice’ and further down the line we get another couple of most unlikely covers – David Bowie’s ‘Saviour Machine’ and The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – none of which bear any particular resemblance to their original versions once they have been filtered through the Melvins’ proto-metal prism.
In acknowledgement of the recent release of their 25th album A Walk with Love and Death, Melvins perform three songs from it. ‘Euthanasia’ is a dense blizzard of noise whilst Osborne’s gut-punching monster riffage on ‘Edgar The Elephant’ nods vaguely in the direction of some previously undiluted Black Sabbath metal dirge. But it is the incredible valedictory salute of ‘Hung Bunny’ and ‘Roman Dog Bird’ (both songs taken from the 1992 offering Lysol) that moves this show into another dimension altogether. These are songs that ooze ambition, experimentation and impeccable timing in roughly equal measure, whilst seducing us all into the huge, heavy vortex of sound that forms yet another remarkable Melvins’ experience.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE