Monday, October 20, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #114 - Melvins - Hostile Ambient Takeover

Melvins have been doing it for over 30 years now.  But what is it exactly that they do?  Punk, hardcore, post-punk, post-hardcore, sludge, grunge, metal, drone, experimental, noise; those and many other terms have been thrown around over the years.  Ultimately, Melvins are a category unto themselves.  Led by Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover, they first emerged out of Aberdeen, Washington in the early 80s.  After about a decade of kicking around the West Coast underground, they were brought to the attention of the rock mainstream by an old friend from their hometown, Kurt Cobain.  Cobain's influence got the band an unlikely, and destined to be short-lived, major label contract.  Yet while they didn't become the next Nirvana, they did get exposed to a wider audience that otherwise wouldn't have known about them.  The odd spectacle of Melvins opening for arena rock titans like Rush and KISS somehow became a reality.  Jumping from label to label became as much a feature of the band as their ever-changing roster of bass players.  They finally got some stability courtesy of old friend Mike Patton who started up his own label, Ipecac Records, in 1999 and made Melvins his first signing.  They started out with a bang, releasing a trilogy of connected albums, The Maggot, The Bootlicker, and The  Crybaby, each focusing on an aspect of the band.  First, heavy riff-rock; next, quieter and more experimental; finally an album of collaborations with friends and admirers.  So how do you follow up something like that?

The answer is 2002's Hostile Ambient Takeover.  It's not necessarily an epic statement but it is a great album.  With nothing to prove and no overarching theme, Melvins just let it rip.  It's mostly heavy, riff-oriented hard rock with a few odd interludes for a Crover drum solo, a blast of distorted feedback, even a spooky synthesizer-based passage.  It wouldn't be the Melvins without a prank or two and here they mess with the CD track listing.  The numbers on the back don't exactly correspond to what your player's display tells you, but it's not too hard to figure out what's what.  "Black Stooges" and "Dr. Geek" feature infectious riffing from Buzz, while "Little Judas Chongo" has the band going psychobilly at breakneck speed.  "The Fool, the Meddling Idiot" is a classic Melvins slow-burner that features slide-bass work from Kevin Rutmanis, who actually has one of the longest streaks as a Melvins bass player.  The album ends with another epic drone metal piece, "The Anti-Vermin Seed."  This sludges along for 15 minutes, always threatening to bust wide open but never quite doing so.  Creating this much tension without any release could be seen as another prank, but a close listen reveals the song to be a carefully constructed epic.

Melvins have always been insanely prolific,
constantly touring and releasing albums.  They haven't slowed down at all and have had some interesting collaborators.  The late-2000s edition of the band saw Osbourne and Crover combining with Seattle band Big Business as a two-drummer quartet.  Stand-up bassist Trevor Dunn joined for a project known as Melvins Lite.  They just released a new album with ex-Butthole Surfers Paul Leary and JD Pinkus.  Earlier this year, Buzz released a solo acoustic album.  With so much material, it can be hard to know where to start if you're just getting into the band.  Hostile Ambient Takeover is as good a place as any.  And if you're a fan of the band and missed this one, it's definitely worth catching up on.  It may not be their best or best-known but it's still an essential entry in the vast Melvins catalog.  Here's to another 30 years!

            - Adam Reshotko

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