An Introduction to Melvins: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Weird, with Pupil Slicer
Sometimes, getting into a band that’s been a blind spot of yours can be a daunting task. It’s even more difficult when the band you’re somewhat interested in is as eclectic, odd, and prolific as Melvins. Recently, Pupil Slicer bassist Luke Fabian was in that situation and he sought guidance from his nearby musical sherpa, fellow bandmate and vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies.
So today, on the release of their album Blossom, what follows is a rundown of how Fabian was introduced to the band, but it’s also a roadmap for anyone looking to get into the band themselves. Melvins are a wild ride, but with a little guidance and an open mind, you too can be like Luke and find yourself melting into the sonic ocean that is the Washington state-based band.
“Honey Bucket” Houdini (1993)
Kate: This song defined an era of grindcore, with almost everything that came before being Napalm Death worship, “Honey Bucket” ushered in a new generation of grindcore bands playing Melvins songs at 2x speed with blast beats. Examples including Pig Destroyer, Full of Hell and The Dillinger Escape Plan (who have covered this in particular).
Luke: I don’t hear the grindcore in it so much, maybe in the actual boxed out tone, yeah and two-step feel, although I guess I am thinking more of Napalm worship. But regardless this is a slamming track, especially with the kick ass superior butt rock riff at around 1 minute in. The vocals sound like Rob Zombie? I think Kate and Josh have jammed this before. Slicer should add themselves to this esteemed list, will check out some of the covers listed.
“Oven” Ozma (1989)
Kate: A mathy banger famously covered extremely well by Full of Hell and Pig Destroyer, all versions worth a listen to see how timeless and ahead of its time this piece was.
Luke: This track has the qualities about it that recently clicked with me when I was checking out videos of the era of them with two drummers – Immediate, heavy, groovy, weird, sparse. The stops on the drums with the vocals into the technical and doomy riff at the end were brilliant. Played this one three times. Does Kate mainly know Melvins songs from Pig Destroyer covers? Keep reading to find out.
“It’s Shoved” Bullhead (1991)
Kate: A great straight up rock song, this album also features “Boris”, a drone banger in a weird drop octave tuning that the Japanese doom titans took their name from.
Luke: As Kate says, this is the first conventional ‘song’ on the list. I like the LP cover with the fruit, nice. I vibe with the kinda Fugazi bass-line that feel that runs through the track. The ending groove was really strong, enjoyed that a lot. I like the brevity of their tracks, and the quick moves between riffs and section / sub-grooves. Although I said at the start it was conventional in structure, it wasn’t really that conventional at all, basically a rock riff, riff with vocals over it, then a bridge and outro riff. Very cool.
“At The Stake” Stoner Witch (1993)
Kate: An excellent reworking of “Night Goat” from Houdini and live staple. This album also features “Sweet Willy Rollbar” with an absolute banger main riff and “Revolve” which served as inspiration for “Blood and Thunder” by Mastodon.
Luke: Kate hit me with a lot of lore there that I didn’t know. Appreciate it though, and it’s good context. Kate also hitting me from the Mastodon fan-boy angle too. I have listened to the Stoner Witch LP in the past, but not recently enough for it to colour this listening. From this song, I’m getting the influence they had on Neurosis. Cool bass tone, with chorus and using a pick. The tone of this track is more serious, and I’m hearing the doom and drone more. It did not grab me as much as the shorter (mathy? / punk) tracks and I got a bit bored towards the end, but generally very good, and I will re-approach the LP as a whole.
“Amazon Pt. 3” The Maggot (1999)
Kate: Showcasing the fantastic range of the band, “Amazon Pt. 3” steers into industrial metal and could easily be mistaken for a Godflesh classic.
Luke: I like the NOLA-esque and metal vibe of the riff, but yeah as this gets into it the industrial elements come out more. I like it. I feel though I need to listen to all four parts of Amazon to ‘get’ this more. Agree with the Godflesh comparison, shoutout Godflesh also, they are the best.
“The Water Glass” The Bride Screamed Murder (2010)
Kate: In the late 2000s, Melvins needed a new bassist and were on tour with the bass/drum power duo Big Business. Loving their work, The Melvins decided to take on both of them, leading to a fantastic era of them performing with two drummers.
Luke: This is the era of the band that I have seen videos of, and kind of turned me onto them a bit. I am aware of Big Business, but need to check out their stuff too. The heaviness of the two drummers is really great; the sync between them is impressive. Reminds me of when I first got into Kylesa, who also had two drummers. The track goes into that call and response section, which although a bit cheesy on the record, is probs super fun live, the rock n roll vibes are cool.
“A History Of Bad Men” A Senile Animal (2006)
Kate: One of the coolest songs of all time, also another reworking of their main riff on “Night Goat” from Houdini. This album also features “The Talking Horse” with one of the best bass intro riffs I’ve heard.
Luke: Epic big-beat power drum intro on this. I think I also did watch a live video of this, because I remember that powerful drum intro. Agree with Kate, this is a really dope track, and probs objectively the best one on this list. This track has also got that really cool duel vocal on it, which was a big sell on the band from watching the prior mentioned live vids. On first listen, I think this is a good all round representation of the Melvins (diverse sound) and hits all the varied high points found on the other tracks. The drum solos section and sonic experimentations from four minutes-ish in are wild.
“Hung Bunny/Roman Dog Bird” Lysol (1992)
Kate: A two-part epic that birthed (or at least made prominent) the concept of drone metal, transitioning into a sludge banger, the first half of which was covered by Sunn O))) on their debut album as “Rabbit’s Revenge.” This album is fire front to back, also with an amazing cover of Flipper’s “Sacrifice”.
Luke: I was lambasted by Kate for not being totally in love with Drone. For me personally it doesn’t really tick many boxes. It’s not objectively musically interesting (like prog), or got a beat (like hardcore or hip hop). On our tour with Boris, in Oslo, Norway they played a Drone set, and had like a hundred amps on stage. Whilst sonically and philosophically interesting, and top rock points to Boris for hitting 130-140 decibels in the venue, I still found this track challenging. When it kicked in to the more riff based part of the track around 11 mins, I was rocking, but the first part, kinda difficult though. Hell, we even covered a SunnO))) / Boris track at that gig, and I had more fun playing it than listening. Respect to the historicism of this track though. And drones, boomer and zoomers and doomers, I apologize.
“Pink Bat” Pigs Of The Roman Empire (2004)
Kate: A straight up hardcore banger from the collaborative album with industrial/dark ambient producer Lustmord.
Luke: I do like the straight up punk vibe of this track, and the overtones provided by Lustmord are cool. For sure, I prefer Melvins in their straight up rocking mode.
“The Bit” Stag (1996)
Kate: A massive tune with a banger main riff, famously covered by Mastodon.
Luke: No 10 is a plant. I asked Kate to put this song on the list because it does indeed have a ‘banger main riff’ and is the main Melvins song I have known and checked out properly up until this list. I know the ‘Don cover from ‘Live at the Aargon’ live album, which came out about 10 years ago now I guess. Both versions are great, and after initially being familiar with the cover it was cool to get to know the original. Love the bass slides in the intro, very cool, and I should rip this off. Also I haven’t really touched on the Melvins lyrics too much. But the lyrics in this track are kinda meaningless, but also sound prophetic. Again, Kate tells me this is the intended effect.
Kate: As a final note, the three album run of Lysol, Houdini and Stoner Witch is one of the best album runs ever and highly recommended as a starting point for getting into the band.
Luke: It’s been an interesting, challenging and varied listen through these selections of Melvins. I can see why the band is so lauded, and given the lineage of covering Melvins, Slicer should also. I did suggest a band outing in London to go and see the band in June, but it clashes with the Slicer playing Download. Kate assures me that Melvins come round often, so Melvins – see you around.