A beginner's guide to The Melvins

It's hard to categorise the Melvins, which is probably why they have been at turns both hugely influential yet also overlooked. From Seattle and formed in 1983, they have constantly shifted and shuffled through line-up changes and musical musings. Inspired by punk, hardcore, metal, avant-garde, cartoon and grand guignol, they have released a succession of infuriatingly incandescent albums, beginning with 1987's debut Gluey Porch Treatments.

Selecting albums to represent their career is about as rewarding as trying to keep ice cubes from melting in your mouth. So, this is an attempt to point Melvins ingenues in the right direction. But it’s far from a definitive guide to their music. More of a beginner’s excursion, which is what it’s supposed to be anyway!

Gluey Porch Treatments, 1997 What the hell were the Melvins doing? In one respect, this album is all over the place, reaching from sludge to thrash, via a Green River cover called Leeech. It was stark, stinking bonkers. But somehow works. Because the band were constantly on the move, and yet kept a cohesion, almost against their better judgement.

While there were bands on the cutting edge going for doom or thrash, Melvins leapt over the precipice, and took us all with them. This was the soundtrack to a nervous meltdown after three days on heavy acid.

Lysol, 1992 What have Melvins and the Beach Boys have in common? It’s the image used on the cover here. Because the latter featured the same one on their 1973 album The Beach Boys In Concert. It’s called Appeal To The Great Spirit.

Moreover, the album title caused problems. The manufacturers of the household product of the same name objected to its use here. So subsequent pressings had it retitled Melvins.

The music was sweeping and dangerous. Listening to Hung Bunny is the audio equivalent of impaling yourself with a rusty nail, but is highly recommended as a listening delight. A remarkably magnetic end to this part of the band’s career.

Houdini, 1993 The album that saw the band’s transition from indie pups to fully developed major label mongrels. Well, they were now signed to Atlantic. Kurt Cobain, a big fan, co-produced six of the tracks here, although the band had to fire him for being too out of control. He also played distinctively spikey guitar on Sky Pup.

This was Melvins slightly toned down and more focused. The musical direction is a lot more defined, keeping to a sludgier feel, and there’s even a cover of Kiss’s Goin’ Blind. However, this was far from Melvins going corporate. There was still enough madcap, erm, madness to maintain the band’s reputation as rock sewer rats.

The Maggot, 1999

In reality, you have to also include the subsequent albums The Bootlicker (also 1999) and The Crybaby (2000). Because this made up a trilogy. Each of the albums were recorded at the same time, but the individual releases were staggered. However, after all the albums had come out, there was a vinyl box set of all three records issued in 2000 under the title of The Trilogy.

This was an eerie example of the band’s imagination at work. Although King Buzzo (aka. Buzz Osborne) once again proved he was a master of the riff, with some truly staggering examples here. And the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) almost shoves Judas Priest’s version towards One Direction, such is its severity.

Electroretard, 2001 On the surface, no more than a filler album. It had reworkings of four older songs and three covers. But then nothing is simple in the bizarro universe of Melvins.

The quartet of older tracks ere denatured and rematerialised in a very different form. This wasn’t so much a reimagination, as imagination.

And the covers were clearly chosen with some care. There’s The Wipers’ Youth Of America and Missing from Cows. The Wipers and Cows were 80s American punks who always hovered on the edge of being experimental. And there’s also Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive, which came over like what might happen if the overdrive went into a critical condition.

The album was completed by Shit Storm, which was an experiment in backwards masking.

Never Breathe What You Can’t See, 2004 Melvins teamed up with Jello Biafra here. And it’s the perfect collision between the former’s musical diatribes and the latter’s politically atonal incense. There are some quite explosive touches of cynicism here from Biafra, as on Plethysmograph and Yuppie Cadillac. And Dawn of The Locusts has some really ‘out of their tree’ clumps of Melvins distortion, while Caped Crusader features some damaged headcase blues guitar work from Osborne.

The music slips somewhere between the fully engaged punk of the Dead Kennedys and the sludgier pool of Melvins. It fits neatly together.

Everybody Loves Sausages, 2013 A covers album. But with a difference. The difference being the Melvins spin on every track. You’ll never have heard Queen, The Kinks, The Jam and Roxy Music in quite this fashion. And did Venom really ever conceive of what a band might some day do to Warhead, when they wrote that missive and even got some Radio One airplay with it?!

Oddest of the odd bunch is Heathen Earth by Throbbing Gristle, because there is no song of that title from the latter! Melvins took the title from a Gristle album, and just came up with what they thought would an appropriate interpretation a la the Throbbing ones. All we need now is for Throbbing Gristle to cover Melvins version of a song by them that has never existed!

Hold It It, 2014 As so we reach the band’s new album. With a title that has to be ironic, because Melvins have never held anything in. It all spills out, as it does here.

This sees the Melvins core of Osborne and Dale Crover teaming up with the Butthole Surfers duo Paul Leary and J.D. Pinkus. And, as you might expect, things get a little challenging. Did you ever believe you’d hear a straightforward hard rock anthem like You Can Make Me Wait on a Melvins album? Or something as blues-stacked as Eyes On You? But they’re both here, clipped against a barrage of weird twists and apocalyptic roundabouts.

It’s more proof that, by bringing in outside talents, the Melvins never get stuck in a rut. And if this is your first taste of the band, then it’s as good a place as any to start.

There’s nothing linear about the band’s catalogue. Just dip in with a random motion. The beauty lies in the suspension of normal reality.

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021