The Melvins grab chaos and noise by their eight furry legs and wrestle them into submission on Tarantula Heart.

Release date: April 19, 2024 | Ipecac Recordings | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

The Melvins have few true contemporary peers making music in their scene (as it were) today. The closest that it comes – and my own personal hot take – is that their journey has been coincidentally similar to Japanese fuzz lords Boris (made more coincidental in that the latter band took their moniker from the song of the same name from the Melvins‘ 1991 album Bullhead). Their outputs are both prolific, their sounds are both instantly recognisable yet incredibly varied from album to album, and they both have a knack for releasing albums that are either all-killer-no-filler, or with one or two guaranteed bangers and then solid tracks making up the rest of the record. Both have collaborated with other artists, have toured together, and both have albums out this year (though Boris‘ release for 2024 is a collaboration with Coaltar of the Deepers).

The band truly requires no introduction at this point, but for the three unaware Martian cave-dwellers that end up reading this review, here’s some background. The Melvins were instrumental in the formative days of the grunge scene, as well as holding a similar position in influencing the early days of sludge outside of its booming scene in Louisiana. Their sound can swing wildly, borrowing elements from metal and punk, noise rock, stoner, dark ambient, jazz, and even dabbling with remixing. They’ve influenced a plethora of metal bands from their rise in the 90’s onwards, and with the exception of guitarist/vocalist Buzz ‘King Buzzo’ Osbourne and drummer Dale Crover, they’ve had a number of different members over their forty-plus-year career (!) – at one point including Coady Willis as a second drummer both on stage and in the recording studio. They are intricately tied to Ipecac Recordings, consistently releasing albums through them since the turn of the millennium, while Osbourne also collaborates with the label’s co-found Mike Patton in Fantômas (while a topic for another time, King Buzzo’s playing on 2005’s Suspended Animation has earned him that crown in my opinion).

And so, I find that my take is further validated with the release of the Melvins‘ 28th record, Tarantula Heart. Here, Osbourne and Crover are joined by Steven McDonald of Redd Kross (who has been the band’s regular bassist/backing vocalist since 2015), as well as Gary Chester of We Are The Asteroid on guitar, and Roy Mayorga of Soulfly fame in the role of the second drummer. It was recorded, mixed and produced by the band’s long-time collaborator Toshi Kasai at The Sound of Sirens Studio in Los Angeles. And how does it gel with the rest of their discography? Exactly how you’d expect. Let’s dive in.

Album opener “Pain Equals Funny” is a 19-minute odyssey, beginning with a distinctly Melvins riff that builds over the first four minutes until it soars alongside Osbourne’s vocals, becoming a glorious kind of motif. For the next five-ish minutes, we’re taken back down to ground level by a dirge-y, stompy riff, which gives way to a foreboding section of relative quiet reprieve before it builds to a frenetic section, driven by wailing guitars, chugging bass, and crashing drums. All of this is closed out with a swirling, screeching outro. Could this one song have been stitched together from shorter separate ones? By a lesser band, certainly, and here… maaaaaybe? But the Melvins blend it all together in a seamless behemoth of an opener that takes you on a journey and feels like them doing what they do best.

“Working the Ditch” is a little more straightforward than the first track and begins with a gut-rumbling riff that pervades the song, sinister dual vocals growling across its duration, all complemented by a beautifully swampy groove. Single material to be sure, as evidenced by the fact that it got its own video (see below) and feels like the band effortlessly dropping a banger for the fans to pump their fists or throw goats to.

“She’s Got Weird Arms” is a classically named track (by the band’s standards) and is a jolly, discordant trip for all three minutes and forty seconds of its runtime. It feels simultaneously experimental, feels like it would be at home in a late ’90s live setlist, and feels totally Melvins all at the same time. And there’s something interesting Osbourne does with his vocals that becomes more apparent on the following song.

“Allergic To Food” moves at a hasty clip and almost feels like the band’s take on a B-52s / B-movie / trash culture song. The riffs here are quick and slick, the bass rolls like the world’s smoothest boulder, the drums slap, and the vocals wail and jeer, like Osbourne’s reshaped version of Fred Schneider’s sprechgesang style of singing.

Album closer “Smiler” refuses to drop the pace, crashing to life with a rollicking tone that carries the song for its near five-minute duration. The track is as close as this disc gets to touching on a more conventionally ‘accessible’ rock structure in its songwriting, a couple of screechy solos after the mid-point along with a very mosh-friendly and consistent riff give strong set-closing vibes worthy of loving and hyped-up cheers.

The tough part about reviewing a Melvins album comes from their core nature – with few peers against which to compare them, as well as not only their albums but essentially their wider sound varying so much over the years, it’s like comparing a mouth-watering pizza with the perfect balance of toppings to a hearty plate of your favourite comfort-food pasta. What about reflecting on past releases? Can you hold Tarantula Heart up against albums such as Nude With Boots or A Walk with Love & Death, or even classics like Houdini and Stoner Witch? Well, one of their strengths in having such variety over the course of their career is that a lot of different tastes are catered for; I’d be willing to bet even the most ‘unpopular’ Melvins albums have fans who would revere them as the band’s best. So, with objectivity essentially off the table, and with the band’s penchant for doing whatever the fuck they want in mind, how does Tarantula Heart stack up?

While the opening track moves to and fro in terms of tone, the balance of the album is a more cohesive experiment with noise – the busier sonic elements deftly wrangled into a more streamlined, albeit unmistakably Melvins take on a heavy rock sound. I’ll be clear here – my review is based on a solid day of listening to the record, however I do foresee multiple repeat listens in my future, not only due to how dense and layered some of these songs are, but how damned enjoyable they are as well. I can’t help but grin at the cacophony that rings between my ears for the duration of the album; whether or not it was the case (and I hope it was!), Tarantula Heart feels like the Melvins having fun with some mates, and laying it down on tape the only way they know – their own way.

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