In that 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the band who calls themselves the Melvins, one might wonder if their 19th album Tres Carbones would be a more serious offering from the now-stalwart metal band. It is true that Tres Carbones is something of a “throwback” for the band, in that this album marks the return of “original” drummer Mike Dillard (who previously appeared only in demos and bootlegs), with current drummer Dale Crover playing bass guitar. Further, out of the twelve songs on the album, nine tracks have been previously recorded and released by the band between the years of 1983 and 2013. In many ways, Tres Carbones may feel like a career retrospective for the band with singer/ guitarist/original member Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne only a few months from his fiftieth birthday (which sets him up to push “elder statesmen status”).
As for taking this era of the band seriously, however, if their nineteenth album is of any indication, the answer is a resounding “Hell No!” Tres Cabrones includes such “traditional” songs as “99 Bottles of Beer” (their rendition of which never seems to get past the 99th bottle, for whatever that signifies), “You’re in the Army Now” and the whackily raunchy “Tie My Pecker to a Tree” (once covered by Cheech Marin’s alter-ego “Red Stick” in Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’). The silliness continues in the song “Walter’s Lips”, a cover of a song by The Lewd, which is something of a bizarre love song to newscaster Walter Cronkite (strangely similar to Joey Ramone’s “Maria Bartiromo”, though written decades prior). The final track is a semi-cover called “Stick ‘Em Up Bitch” which begins with all original music and lyrics by Osborne before morphing into The Pop-O-Pies’ “Fascists Eat Donuts”.
The remaining seven songs on the album were (as most Melvins songs have been) written by Osborne himself. These kick off with Tres Cabrones‘ first song, the hard-rocking psychedelic sludge of “Dr. Mule”. Osborne’s distant vocals echo as if from down a long hallway and are obscured by his loud guitar. His voice ranges from a low, direct growl to a crazy punk scream while the music itself ranges from direct hard rock to metal to something most akin to post-hardcore with trippy feedback loops and often asynchronous drums and clapping supporting the entire affair.
The metal sludge that Melvins have become known for is showcased on “City Dump” (also released earlier this year as part of the “Gaylord” single). Osborne’s chugging guitar and menacing storytelling voice give way to the many layers of this deceptively complex and catchy song. While not quite the direct metal of their mid-1990s track “Instant Larry”, “City Dump” and its follow-up “American Cow” show (the) Melvins at their grinding, plodding best. On “American Cow”, Osborne continues to play with tempo as well as employing the various different vocal characterizations he has cultivated throughout the years. At times he sounds like an angry Southern rocker, at times a mad scientist from a bygone horror flick and at times he even sounds like a heavy metal singer.
The sludge of “American Cow” quickly gives way to the playful and silly country of “Tie My Pecker to a Tree”, which jars the listener into a remarkably weird mood level before Tres Cabrones swings right back into Melvins-style experimental rock with “Dogs and Cattle Prods”. The appropriately-named “Psycho-delic Haze” follows and brings the listener into the weirdness that Buzzo has hiding under all of that wild hair. The random and sometimes ridiculous lyrics of this song are so seriously sung (to an almost Danzig-level) that one could believe that Osborne means every word he says about chicken legs.
“Psycho-delic Haze” might have formed a perfect partnership with the trippy “I Told You I Was Crazy” if the two weren’t separated by the novelty cover “99 Bottles of Beer”. “I Told You I Was Crazy” is a slow and minimalist grinder with experimental electronic feedback and growling background sounds that would make it perfect for the soundtrack to some bizarre, drug-induced horror film. As “I Told You I Was Crazy” slowly (yet surely) adds instruments, the Melvins’ multiple layers present themselves again and we’re given an ambitious and sweeping wall of sound that both stands out on this album and sounds undeniably Melvins.
“Stump Farmer” is another throwback to the Mangled Demos From 1983 release and sounds like a punk-metalized slice of proto-grunge with a feedback-heavy guitar solo over the classic chugging-sound of the murky Melvins’ take on death metal. This would hold true throughout if the discernible lyrics by Osborne weren’t clearly inspired by the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. That’s not to say “Stump Farmer” is a bad song for this reason. On the contrary, this additional layer of oddity makes the song all that much more “Melvins”.
Tres Cabrones (Spanish for “Three Bastards”) is, by its very nature, a mixture of classic and current Melvins and the current three-man lineup (at least current for this release) are adept at nailing each era and facet of the band (from the classic sludge to the artistic experimental rock to the psychedelic lyrics to the absolutely comical side they’ve always embraced). This 19th album may not quite be the best of their releases, nor is it the most accessible album to come out of 2013 (accessibility would not exactly be very Melvins, would it?), but Melvins fans and fans of experimental rock, novelty songs and the classic punk style that never took itself too seriously will find a lot to love in Tres Cabrones. With nineteen (full) albums in their catalogue, (the) Melvins may be eligible for stalwart “elder statesmen” status, at least in their own unique genre. But it’s hard to imagine “King Buzzo” and the band ever taking themselves seriously enough to play that role.