Downtuned Apocalypse

The Melvins prove getting Senile ain't so bad

"We're really good. People should just trust us," cracks Melvins guitarist/founder Buzz Osborne during a telephone interview with an audible smirk. "We know what we're doing."

The average Nickelback fan might have problems with such bold statements — even if that band should be paying the Melvins a quarter on every post-grunge dollar it earns in tribute. But over the course of a two-decade career playing by their own rules, Osborne, monster drummer Dale Crover, and a revolving cast of bassists have produced a veritable landslide of sludgy, left-of-center releases that have consistently pushed the envelope of heavy music. From the group's early genesis as a hardcore band that flipped its internal switch to 16 RPMs, through more recent experiments with ambient noise terrorism, the Melvins forged a singular sound while giving the finger to anyone who wasn't willing to go along for the ride.

After enlisting Mr. Bungle bassist (and Osborne's fellow Fantômas member) Trevor Dunn to hold down four-string duties on the Melvins' live 2005 performances of their landmark album Houdini, it seemed the group might have found a new third party. Instead, the Melvins took another unusual turn by absorbing Seattle-based punk-metal duo Big Business into its ranks, with Coady Willis playing drums alongside Crover and Jared Warren adding his bass and vocal skills to the outfit's latest Ipecac effort, (A) Senile Animal.

"We liked the idea of doing something different," explains Osborne. "We'd played with Big Business before, and I thought it would be a good idea to do something with both of them instead of just one person. And we liked the idea that Jared sang as well. It's not like two drummers would work with anybody; I knew that [Willis] would be able to do it."

Using two drummers in a band conjures images of aimless hippy jamming and more avant-garde jazz or rock exploration (various Ornette Coleman groups and the King Crimson double trio of the 1990s come to mind). But rather than taking the Melvins over the precipice into an experimental-metal void, the infusion of new blood helped produce the band's most focused and accessible material in ages. Whether propelling concise, surprisingly hook-heavy uptempo ragers like "The Hawk" and "Rat Faced Granny" or giving the four longer, slower tracks both explosive density and an uncannily elastic sense of stretched time, Crover and Willis sound like long-separated, conjoined twins that have finally been reunited to form an eight-limbed percussive juggernaut.

As talented as the players are, the rhythmic symbiosis wasn't without its labor pains — "It came totally naturally after five months of intense rehearsal," deadpans Osborne. But now that the Melvins' latest incarnation is firing on all cylinders, there's no indication that the successful collaboration with Big Business is a one-off encounter. On the current tour to promote (A) Senile Animal, the bands perform both individually and together, in addition to sharing the stage with fellow sludgemeisters Altamont (with Crover strapping on a guitar to front the group) and Porn, which spotlights talented six-string madman and Melvins tour manager Tim Moss, along with various other surprise special guests.

Orchestrating this kind of traveling circus of maverick metal might sound bizarre, but it fits right in with Osborne's confident approach to the Melvins' career in general: "I don't think there's anything we can't do," he says. "We have done enough weird stuff to where I can pretty much put out any record I want to — and people can say what they will, but it's not to be unexpected."

 
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