"Tarantula Heart is the best Melvins album since the 90s": They shaped sludge metal and inspired Nirvana, but Melvins are still punk metal weirdos on new album Tarantula Heart

Grunge forerunners and sludge metal pioneers Melvins are pushing the envelope again with their new - and 27th! - album Tarantula Heart

Melvins Tarantula Heart
(Image: © Press/Ipecac)

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Normal rules seldom apply to Melvins. A psychedelically inclined sludge metal band that emerged when no such thing existed, Buzz Osborne’s amorphous mischief-makers have built a career upon the gleeful confounding of expectations. 

Even at their most commercially forthright, the likes of grunge-adjacent classics Houdini and Stoner Witch were far too weird to cross over to the mainstream, and we love them for it. But even by their own cock-eyed standards, Tarantula Heart is a jaw-dropping mindfuck. 

Built around wild, percussive jams created by drummers Dale Crover and Roy Mayorga, traditional song-writing has been abandoned for an intuitive approach, and the results are spectacular. Furthermore, the cudgelling riffs that have often informed Melvins’ strongest records are back in abundance. 

Opener Pain Equals Funny expands and devours across 20 languorous minutes, and is a liberated colossus. Buzz’s vocals pin shards of melody to a tapestry of interlocking downtempo grooves, amid vast surges of lysergic slurry. Dale and Roy are lost in a fidgety furore of their own making, as dynamic shifts and subversive detours bloom around them. 

The riffs are uniformly great. Echoes of past glories are discernible, but this is a pointedly evolved take on Melvins’ trademark sound, as furiously difficult as that is to pin down. The remaining five songs may not be quite as radical, but the band’s unhinged flair is sustained to the end. 

Working The Ditch is a pugnacious sludge throwback with a gloriously dirty central riff; She’s Got Weird Arms takes an art-rock hatchet to lurching noise rock, as if Pere Ubu were buried up to their necks in hot, desert sand; Allergic To Food is a howling mad eruption of spikiness and spite; and the closing Smiler is a punk-metal beat-’em-up, overdosing on ADHD meds. This is the best Melvins album since the 90s. Mad but true.

Tarantula Heart is out April 19 via Ipecac. King Buzzo will tour the UK from October 1. 

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.