The Melvins – A Walk With Love and Death
Label: Ipecac Recordings
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Here are some culturally significant things that happened in 1983:
- Fraggle Rock Debuts
- Michael Jackson’s Thriller video airs on MTV for the first time
- McDonalds introduces the McNugget
- ARPANET migrates to TCP/IP, marking the beginning of the modern internet
- The final episode of M*A*S*H airs to an estimated audience of 125 million
- Ronald Regan signs a bill designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official federal holiday
- Sally Ride becomes the first American woman to fly into space, aboard the Challenger space shuttle
- Return of the Jedi opens in theatres
- A Christmas Story is released
- The Melvins form in Montesano, WA
That’s a hefty list, to be sure. I’m not going to make an argument that the formation of the Melvins should rank alongside those other things, though I do think it’s remarkable that we’re still talking about this band nearly 35 years after they formed—particularly because the Melvins, despite their universally acknowledged influence on heavy music, never really experienced the commercial success that many of their peers did. Then again, that’s probably why they’ve yet to flame out.
The Melvins’ latest release, entitled A Walk With Love and Death, is approximately the band’s 25th release. I say “approximately” because to the casual fan it is sometimes hard to tell what exactly constitutes an “official” release amongst the seemingly endless stream of EP’s, one-off projects, and assorted what-have-you that these guys have been steadily releasing for the past 3+ decades.
A Walk with Love and Death is also a double album, which is a surprising first for the Melvins being that they are a band which seems prone to release just about everything they put to tape. The album is split into to very distinct parts, with Death representing what one would expect from a typical Melvins’ release—insofar as one would describe anything the Melvins do as “typical”—and Love being the score to a short film which shares the album’s title.
Let’s talk about Death first.
By this point in their career, the Melvins have likely forgotten how to play more songs than most bands ever manage to write, and I doubt many fans would begrudge them for simply honing their craft rather than expanding it in any measurable way. I suppose that’s a roundabout way of saying that the Melvins pretty much sound like themselves on Death, and that’s not a bad thing.
As has often been the case throughout the course of their lengthy career, our stalwart heroes Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne (guitars & vocals) and Dale Crover (drums) are rounded out by someone whose name they presumably picked out of a hat to play bass guitar. This time around the honor goes to Steven McDonald, who made his debut with the Melvins on their 2016 album Bases Loaded—an album which featured 7 different bass players, including Krist Novoselic of Nirvana fame. Anyways, Death is tightly packed with the sort of plodding sludge for which the band has become well-known, including the brooding opening combo of “Black Heath” and “Sober-dellic”, the latter of which features some especially memorable lead guitar work from Buzzo.
Along with the inimitable Crover, McDonald lays down a soulful series of grooves on his bass, and when given a chance to contribute more than just solid bass lines on “What’s Wrong with You”—where he’s handed lead vocal duties—he makes the most of it. The song has a boozy Rated R-era Queens of the Stone Age vibe to it, but maybe that’s just because it reminds me of those moments when Nick Oliveri (speaking of, how come he hasn’t played bass for the Melvins yet?) would commandeer the mic and deliver a memorable track.
Overall, Death is pretty much what I expect to hear when news arrives that the Melvins are cutting a new record, which is also what I was hoping for. If the Melvins represent the cosmic center of the current rock universe or—at the very least—one of the dense, dark points from which the current galaxy of genres and sub-genres sprung forth, then Death is a welcome addition to the murky stew of today’s rock and roll landscape.
Love, on the other hand, suffers from a serious lack of context. As mentioned above, Love is the score for a yet-to-be-released short film and—even though the Melvins’ vast discography is full of examples where the band explored abstract & experimental soundscapes—seems starkly out-of-place on the band’s first double album. Comprised of a series of…let’s call them “vignettes” rather than songs…Love struggles to form a coherent thought in a purely audio form. My best guess is that this short film, for which these vignettes serve as the backdrop for, would be “Recommended because you watched Trainspotting” on your Netflix feed due to their unsettling nature and occasional reference to drugs. Of the 14 tracks which comprise Love, only “Give it to Me” resembles a proper song—and I can almost envision a scene in which Buzzo and Crover star as part of some unknown bar band playing said song as the film’s protagonist shambles through the surreality of a drug induced stupor.
It’s a bit surprising that the band didn’t utilize the release of A Walk with Love and Death to bring exposure to a project they obviously feel strongly about by delaying this release until the film component was ready, then releasing it simultaneously as a complete package. It’s not like this is the Melvins’ first deviation into the world of multimedia either—on the band’s 2007 tour in support of the phenomenal (A) Senile Animal, they opened a series of shows (one of which I was fortunate enough to witness) with a short animated film entitled Purge of Dissidents…well, shoot…this would be the part of the review where it occurs to me that I probably should have trusted the Melvins’ vision all along because it now occurs to me that their likely master plan involves bringing the film version of A Walk with Love and Death out on an upcoming tour to support an album of the same name.
Well played, Melvins. Well played, indeed.