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New Melvins LP “Tarantula Heart” finds them on top form

27th studio album from the forefathers of grunge, 37 years after their debut

One of the regular Social Media questions about music asks, “who is the best three-piece band ever”. The list is usually pretty predictable, dominated by the likes of Rush, Motorhead, Cream, The Police, The Jam, Nirvana or Husker Du. Now all fine bands in the main, but rarely do I see much mention of the Melvins. True their line-up has fluctuated over the 4 decades they’ve been together, with the odd live show augmentation, but ostensibly they have operated as a trio.

The Melvins are one of modern music’s most influential bands. Having formed in 1983 Montesano, Washington, the group founded by singer/guitar player Buzz Osborne (with stalwart drummer Dale Crover joining the following year), has been credited with merging the worlds of punk rock and heavy music, forming a new subgenre all its own. Citing Black Flag and Flipper as influences, it was they that had a profound effect on Nirvana, fellow Washington State protagonists of punk rock. Grover played drums on the 10 Nirvana demos that later became the debut LP Bleach, and it was Osborne who introduced Kurt and Krist to Dave Grohl when they were looking for a drummer. When Nirvana broke they never forgot and helped Melvins whenever they could.

Over the band’s 40-plus-year history, they’ve released 27 albums, numerous live full-lengths and far too many to count singles and rarities.

The current incarnation of the band is Osborne, Crover, and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross). Previous line-ups include a pairing of Osborne and Crover with Big Business band members Jared Warren and Coady Willis, a four-piece featuring the current trio plus Butthole Surfers’ Jeff Pinkus, as well as Melvins Lite, which partners Osborne and Crover with Mr. Bungle’s Trevor Dunn. Sometimes, if you’re extra lucky, one version of the Melvins will open for the Melvins. 

Check out the latest single Allergic To Food. [Caution this video contains flashing images which some people may find triggering].

So now 27 albums later, the band demonstrate an object lesson in keeping things fresh, as the writing process was somewhat different to previous records. Buzz explains….

The way we approached Tarantula Heart was different than any other Melvins’ album. I had Dale and Roy Mayorga come in and play along with Steven and I to some riffs, then I took those sessions and figured out what parts would work and wrote new music to fit. This isn’t a studio approach we’ve ever taken. Usually we have the songs written before we start recording!

The majority of Tarantula Heart has dual drum parts,” adds long-time Melvins drummer Dale Crover. “Roy is an amazing drummer. We would discuss what we would do pattern wise, then we’d just go for it. Improvising riffs and trading off on drum fills.

The sprawling opener Pain Equals Funny takes the listener on a journey, clocking in at just under 19 minutes, which is nearly 5 minutes longer than the 1981 debut album by Minutemen [The Punch Line]. Bass and drums are to the fore in the mix, with the vocals bubbling under the mesmeric groove, building trancelike until the middle section winds down, lulling you into a false sense of security before returning like Killing Joke ramraiding Slayer in a stolen golf buggy. Definitely not what Nirvana would have termed a “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”.

Emerging from that epic introduction is Working The Ditch, which immediately reminds me of the UKs very own Evil Blizzard, a band most definitely influenced by Melvins you’d think. Again a pedestrian sludge trudge, underpinned by a cyclical bass groove over which Buzzo delivers his monk like mantra. It’s one of those tracks that live you could envisage it going on forever until they get bored or die.

She’s Got Weird Arms is possibly the best song title never used by Devo, and evokes a multiple vehicle crash involving The Residents, Talking Heads and XTC choreographed by the Mothersbaughs. Clocking in at a frugal [by Melvins standards] 3:39 mins, it definitely leaves you wanting more. Strangely the most accessible track of the 5 on show for me.

Allergic To Food, the second track to be released as a single, is a bombastic power slide in comparison to the first 2 tracks, with Buzzo wringing the dying notes out of his guitar, in a prog jazz funk style. Music to operate heavy machinery to!

And so to the closer Smile. This is a more straight forward early Metallica-esque sound, enter the soundman if you will! To end on such an upbeat note after the soporific opening is the perfect counterpoint.

So 5 tracks in all, 39 minutes in total, Tarantula Heart should keep old fans happy, whilst attracting newcomers alike.

Recorded, mixed and co-produced by longtime Melvins’ collaborator Toshi Kasai, the album also features We Are The Asteroid guitar player Gary Chester. Gary and the Melvins’ history goes back to their days on Boner Records, with the guitar player formerly having been a part of the legendary band, Ed Hall.


Pain Equals Funny

Working The Ditch

She’s Got Weird Arms

Allergic To Food


About The Author

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Andi Callen (Contributing Editor)

Original punk. Done everything there is to do in music, except run a record label! Addicted to noise and taking photographs of live music. Based on NW England, I've previously contributed to Louder Than War, MancAndi, The Punk Site, and Backseat Mafia, where I was Punk/Post Punk & Live Editor. Part of the original review team when Rocksound Magazine first started.
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