This double album from the legendary troublemakers tests and teases, but it also rewards
It is hard to evaluate any new Melvins album on the record's actual merits, given that so much has come before it. A Walk with Love and Death is the first double album from the experimental heavy rock outfit, and it's half Melvins collection (Death) and half very surreal film score (Love) to a Melvins-produced Jesse Nieminen directed short film that'll come out soon. While there is no such thing as a standard Melvins album, this one goes to some truly weird places (even for a band who once had a music video with earthworms crawling on boobs and a pig dancing with nuns).
If anything, this new double album kind of calls to mind the band's impressively unhinged yet solid Singles 1–12: a kind of collection of energy. All in all, you're here for the music and along for wherever the ride takes you. If you can't handle that much, surrender now because you probably aren't a Melvins, Primus, Igorrr, or Mr. Bungle fan. That said, those with more rock music leanings will probably be fine with most of the enjoyable Death and tweaked out by Love.
Lead album track "Black Heath" kind of recalls the muted tension of The Bootlicker, one of the band's early Ipecac releases and an underappreciated gem. Tension builds, and there are plenty of cool guitar and drum walks that set the opening stage nicely. The second tune, "Sober-dellic", sounds like a somewhat starling mellow reworking of some of the familiar riffing of "Revolve" in a few places, as if it had been one of the more melodic and quiet B-Side songs on Stoner Witch instead of a full on pulverizer. This song does take on a life of its own before it is through, though, and is one of the catchier tunes here.
"Euthanasia" is the first truly brilliant moment full of old school Melvins dirt and bluster. It is indeed an old song that has been around since around Salad of 1,000 Delights. This new version is slower and creepier, plus more determined and assured. It's an obscure fave for old school fans and one of the best parts of this set.
Thankfully, current bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) seems like he is really having fun with the group and adding some more melodic dexterity to some of the material. For instance, "Christ Hammer" is a cool single, with the chanty-style lead vocals Buzz has used more often in recent years paired with '60s Beatles-esque chorus vibes from McDonald. Together, they bring the song to another level.
This is a record for people who can handle the trippy rock and controlled tempo side of the band over the bludgeoning and face crushing side. Still, it has plenty of rewards, like "Cardboa Negro" and Stag's shifting and snaky classic, "Tipping the Lion". Elsewhere, "Cactus Party" finds the Melvins cementing a new found musical friendship with Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes, Crystal Fairy) for some great '70s-sounding rock 'n' roll. In fact, "Cactus Party" is perhaps the best of the new songs here.
"Edgar the Elephant" is groovy and has a great vibe, yet it doesn't go anywhere, while "Flaming Creature" has some truly boss riffing and some of the sludgiest moments in the set. Buzz and Dale click with Steven on the rhythms here; it feels even more effortless than some past triumphs, and that is a large part of this album's appeal overall, even if it is not their most iconic batch of songs.
Now to Love.
The best part of the film score section is probably "Eat Yourself Out", a freaky song that says, "motherfucker" a lot through weird chaos synths. This score is very weird. It's almost like an early Flaming Lips acid experience if baked under a Melvins' sun. Frankly, most people won't be able to get through it unless they are prone to noise collages or enjoying nightmares on purpose. As for "Street Level St. Paul", it's made of layers of skronky noise, feedback, and modular chaos, with The Pixies' Joey Santiago on guitar on the score somewhere while Toshi Kasai adds noise and assorted field recordings. Several other guests contribute to the debauchery but a lot of it sort of blends together.
I hesitate to call "Chicken Butt" a song since it's comprised of goofy voices and chicken sounds, alongside what sounds like time-stretched puking or bong sounds. I can't be certain. We are talking about a lot of distorted textures here that make the Prick album seem about as linear as an Eagles record. "Pacoima Normal" is also rather interesting, like Gridfailure-esque sheets of static that sound as if someone trying to communicate from The Upside Down.
I have a very open mind, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by Love overall. It has interesting moments but not a lot of repeated listening value; also, the band has already done a lot of experimental stuff like that on obscure releases here and there. It was probably fun to make, but it would have been more enjoyable to hear the band tackle something like Mogwai did with the incredible Les Revenants (not in style or tone, but rather as a very musical score with less tomfoolery). I am sure they could have come up with something incredible if they tried.
This is certainly a purchase longtime fans will justly want to grab. However, if you are a newer fan who, for some reason, wants to start with one of the group's more recent releases, Freak Puke or Nude With Boots might be a better choice since they are more consistently rocking. Melvins is still pretty much my favorite band of all time, though, so take any critiques with a grain of salt, as almost everything they do still rules.