Wednesday, 12 July 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Melvins - "A Walk With Love & Death"

By: Ben Fitts

Album Type: Full Length (Double)
Date Released: 07/07/2017
Label: Ipecac Recordings




 
On “A Walk with Love and Death”, the Melvins do both things that their cultish fans love about them, and do them both damn well.





“A Walk With Love & Death” CD//DD//LP track listing:

“Love”

1. Aim High
2. Queen Powder Party
3. Street Level St. Paul
4. The Hidden Joice
5. Give It to Me
6. Chicken Butt
7. Eat Yourself Out
8. Scooba
9. Halfway to the Bakersfield Mall
10. Pacoima Normal
11. Park Head
12. T-Burg
13. Track Star
14. The Asshole Bastard

“Death”

1. Black Hearth
2. Sober-delic (acid only)
3. Euthanasia
4. What’s Wrong with You
5. Edgar the Elephant
6. Christ Hammer
7. Flaming Creature
8. Cactus Party
9. Cardboro Negro


The Review:

Thirty-four years into their career, the Washington trio Melvins have established themselves as one of the most important groups of weirdos in the history of recorded music. They pioneered the very foundations of both sludge and grunge, were the first to fully utilize the uses of drop tunings and were a major influence on seemingly every metal band at least bordering doom on this side of 1990. It is impossible to view a new work of theirs without the context of their back catalogue. And that back catalogue is vast, but amazingly contains scarcely a forgettable record. Each new Melvins release finds a new personality and/or territory and their newest full-length, “A Walk With Love & Death” does both. Twice.

At twenty-three songs (with a total runtime of eighty-nine minutes), “A Walk With Love & Death” is the Melvins’ first double-album, and they embrace the concept. While many albums spread themselves between two disc because there was simply too much material to be contained on just one, on “A Walk With Love &  Death”, the Melvins create two distinct, separate albums (the first titled “Death”, the second titled “Love”) and package them together as one cohesive unit.

“Death”, the first disc, is by far the more accessible of the two discs and is rank with breezy, blues based grooves. “Death” opens the swampy “Black Health”, which, while still clearly the Melvins, is oddly reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival or Tony Joe White. Intensity builds over the darker, grungier track “Sober-Deli (Acid Only)” before the arrival of “Euthanasia”, a rumbling, groove based sludge metal song (the kind of sound that many think of first when they think of the Melvins).

These moods represented by these first three tracks, bluesy and breezy, grungy and sulky and classic Melvins sludge, more or less define the remaining six songs on the “Death” side of “A Walk with Love and Death”. They are mixed differently and to different proportions, from the stomping bluesy rock and roll of “What’s Wrong With You” and “Cactus Party” to the menacing, propulsive sludge of “Flaming Creature”, the latter of which possibly takes the cake for the best track to be found anywhere on the “Death” side of the album and incorporates some of the funnest, most rifftastic and straightforward music that the Melvins have ever recorded. However, this is balanced out by the following disc, “Love”. That is where things get weird.    

After the buzzing, white instrument noise that ends “Cardboa Negro”, the track that closes “Death”, “Love” introduces itself with ambient street noise on the track “Aim High”. Snippets of casual conversation, the clacks of high-heeled feet and the drone of wind striking a mic set up to introduce the second disc of “A Walk With Love & Death”. “Love” is not all tape collage, and at nearly thirty seconds into “Aim High”, a synthesizer, playing actual tonal notes, can be heard struggling over the din of human background noise, a battle that it eventually loses. “Aim High” sets the precedent for the rest of the second disc.

 Love” is a constant back and forth between tonal music, made by instruments, and ambient, collected sounds. Both ingredients get chances to shine, in varying amounts, throughout “Love”. The tracks on “Love” to feature the most music (as it is traditionally understood) are punk-infused, avant-garde jazz piece “Scooba”, which even features singing vocals (albeit sampled, and somewhat comical ones) and “Give It To Me”, which sounds like a Chicago blues band caught in the midst of interdimensional travel, and sounds less and less like Chicago and more like that other dimension as the song progresses. Conversely, tracks such as “The Hidden Joice” and “Chicken Butt” are built around studio altered spoken samples, with only a backdrop of dissonant synthesizers (with some sparse guitar playing on “The Hidden Joice”). The other ten tracks on “Love” explore seemingly every midpoint one can imagine, from the white noise feedback and out of focus guitar shredding of “Street Level St. Paul” to the casual street noise set to an electronic background of “T-Burg”.

It wasn’t enough for the Melvins to just make a double album. If they were going to do it, they were going to do it in a way that displayed the duality of their nature, taking both ends to their extreme. “Death” is upbeat, groove-based, energetic, punk derived rock and roll that teeters into metal, grunge and blues as they see fit. It is quite possibly the most conventional, accessible collection of music that the band was ever released, even more so than classic major label efforts such as “Houdini” or “Stoner Witch”. And it’s wonderfully enjoyable. The second disc, “Love”, is some of the band’s most obtusely difficult music, on par with 1994’s infamous display of weirdness, “Prick”. And it’s wonderfully challenging. On “A Walk With Love & Death”, the Melvins do both things that their cultish fans love about them, and do them both damn well.   

 “A Walk with Love and Death” is available here





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