Release Date: Jul 7, 2017
Record label: Ipecac
Their first ever double-album - a remarkable fact in itself considering the sheer scope of their output to date - A Walk With Love and Death is as perfectly polarising as their expectation-thwarting, four-decade discography en masse. Self-produced alongside engineer Toshi Kosai, the release boldly unites two disparate realms: Death, a nine-song, de facto studio record, and Love, a thirteen-track ambient noise headtrip that doubles up as the soundtrack to the forthcoming Jesse Nieminen-directed short film that shares the title of this release. With frontman Buzz Osborne having said "the album, the soundtrack and the film are benchmarks for us", combined, it's a trifecta the musical side of which is as accomplished as it is brilliantly at odds with itself.
Melvins' work rate is so prolific that it is not entirely unusual to find them releasing two albums of new material in the course of a year, but Incredibly, over the 30 odd years of the band's existence, they've never released a double album. A Walk With Love & Death puts that right, and sees that particular box on the band's CV well and truly ticked. However, this being the Melvins, this is not your typical double-album affair, where every thought and half-baked idea is thrown into the mix just to fill out running time.
Given the Melvins' long history, and their devotion to the tar-pit heaviness of '70s hard rock (in particular Black Sabbath), it seems odd that they've waited so long to deliver one of the standard benchmarks of a veteran rock band -- the thematically ambitious two-disc set. Billed as the first double album in the Melvins' three-plus-decade history, 2017's A Walk with Love & Death isn't so much an album long enough to require two discs as it is two albums that have been presented in one package, each with a very distinct aural personality. The first nine tracks of this package have been given the subtitle Death, and they sound very much like the Melvins, with plenty of crunchy downbeat guitar figures from King Buzzo, sharp and muscular drumming from Dale Crover, and thick, powerful basslines from Steven McDonald (who has adjusted well to full-time status after his part-time role with the band on 2016's Basses Loaded).
If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed Melvins' records getting more ambitious over the years. Enter double album A Walk With Love And Death - half Melvins release proper, half art film soundtrack, and truly a tale of two parts. Despite bandleader Buzz Osborne describing each of the releases as "benchmarks", it's difficult to understand how album Death and score Love work as one.
Never a band to sit and stagnate, Melvins are always finding new ways to tweak the family recipe. A Walk With Love And Death is the band's first double album, and comprises one "proper" Melvins release in Death and a first foray into soundtrack work in Love. The influence of current bassist Steven McDonald (formerly of Redd Kross) brings an intermittent Beatlesy-sheen to Death's punchier tracks, while guest appearances from Joey Santiago of the Pixies, Terri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes, and Ana Waronker of That Dog add further piquancy.
The last five years have seen the Melvins conjure opportunity out of chaos. In that time, fans have been treated to a double-drummer rhythm section, a record-breaking 51-day tour spanning performances in every one of the United States of America and various recordings featuring stand-up bass player Trevor Dunn, members of Butthole Surfers and Krist Novoselic on accordion, as well as the band's original 1983 lineup. The band have long had a seeming revolving door policy when it comes to bassists, but recent releases have seen the Melvins' low-end switch-ups reaching Spinal Tap proportions.
M ost bands grow more sedate with age; Melvins just seem to get sludgier. Twenty-five albums in, the band have long since perfected a sound that's as dense as a neutron star. Death, the first disc of new double-album A Walk With Love and Death, continues the trend, with molasses-thick riffs played at a catatonic pace, punctuated by the slightest hint of a skewed melody on the likes of the magnificently titled lead single Christ Hammer.
Before I begin writing critically about this record, I feel like transparency is in order. I would not consider myself a Melvins fan. This L.A. by way of rural Washington State trio has loyal fans that snap up every last bit of vinyl that features their music, no matter the cost, but I'm hardly that dedicated.