Few bands have been more influential to the alternative scene than (the) Melvins. Since their arrival in the early eighties, the noisemakers from Washington have forged an uncompromising musical path which has inspired punk and doom metal bands alike. They’ve encouraged many to twist the elements of rock music into unfathomable shapes. Their early work laid the formations for what many consider “grunge”. Somehow, in the mid 90s, they even managed to score a recording deal with a major label, which inspired them to become even more obtuse, first releasing a single that had a lyric in a made up language (‘Hooch’) and promote a slightly later release with a track that included a drawling vocal, a sludge metal riff and an atonal jazz solo played on the trombone. Even more bizarrely, that single (‘Bar-X The Rocking M’) even had its video shown on MTV. The Melvins’ career has taken many forms, and it’s rarely been pretty, but it has never, ever been dull.
Given how many different turns their recording career has taken – still showing no sign of burn-out, with their twenty-third studio album, 2018’s ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ ranking among their best – they’re wholly deserving of a tribute album. Bringing together ten bands from the metal underground, ‘A Future of Bad Men’ isn’t as much a tribute to Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover and their revolving cast of bassists (which has, among others, included Cows man Kevin Rachmanis and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross fame), but more a showcase for a bunch of acts who’d be unlikely to break through without such an obvious push. It does, however, achieve its main aim well, in reminding the listener of a couple of deep cuts from the Melvins archive, whilst introducing a couple of great, otherwise unknown acts along the way.
Kicking things off with a heavy, distorted blast, Grizzlor play safe on a retread of ‘Oven’ that’s little more than a basic reworking of the original track. Despite not choosing to do anything new here, essence of that original performance is conveyed brilliantly, especially in the way the band have managed to recapture not only the heavy sound of the drums, but also their really loud echo. In addition, Crover’s imaginative use of stops remains distinctive even in the hands of another musician. Riff wise it’s a little heavier, and vocally too, there’s a strange growl with a southern twang that differs a little, but fans will still love the familiar ‘Oven’ blast that’s presented here. In and out in under two minutes, the original ‘Ozma’ recording stands as a great example of the early Melvins proto-grunge meets art rock sound, and this small tribute is more than respectful of a once groundbreaking track. Likewise, Olde take the classic ‘Hooch’ and work it verbatim, except for stoking up the sludgy sound about three fold. This in itself makes a great listen as the swampy guitar sounds come over with a speaker breaking intensity that’s hard to beat, before Trigger Cut’s ‘Lizzy’ braves something a little different when presenting an old Melvins tune with a clean, slacker vocal set against an atonal guitar. This makes the verses sound more like a Pavement deep cut, but normality is restored once the main hook crashes in with a crushing sound, loaded with distortion and a vocal performance that sounds like something on loan from Tad’s ‘Jack Pepsi’. In terms of pure noise making, Trigger Cut eventually peak with a round of screams set against a mad drum roll, before descending into an ugly proto-grunge wall of sound that marries the ‘10 Songs’ era Melvins’ production sound with one of their major label classics.
Back in 2020, Ohio goth-sludgers Night Goat released a couple of great tracks as part of a split with psych-doom band Ghost:Hello, and this provides a great opportunity for them to pay tribute to their obvious, primary influence. They’ve chosen to go all the way back to 1992’s ‘Eggnog’, and taken ‘Antitoxidote’ into even more lo-fi realms. After opening in the most unsubtle way via a wall of noise, the band’s riffs slowly emerge in a way that makes them sound poorly recorded. After a little adjustment time, it’s clear that this slightly trebly and still distorted approach is perfect for the job in hand, and a spooked out, female vocal provides a great alternative to Buzz himself. In lots of ways, the vocal is enough for this track to quickly become Night Goat’s very own, but that’s not to detract from a great guitar part that continues to flaunt a classic neo-doom/proto grunge noise, presented in a way that would still obviously be Melvins-esque even if you didn’t know the recording’s true origins. Given how much they love the track, it’s strange that Night Goat didn’t commandeer ‘Night Goat’ for themselves…but that falls to Doctor Monster, a post rock/noise rock band from Oakland, who rank among this tribute’s best musicians. Not only do they tackle the track with the utmost reverence, with their frontman adopting a vocal that crosses King Buzzo with David Yow, but the sonic elements of the recording are superb. There’s a genuine warmth coming through every bass note – which works brilliantly considering huge chunks of the number rely on a slow, bottom end groove – and when it’s time to unleash the heavy, the guitars retain a Melvins-like weight, even when moving into harder and more angular post-rock sounds. Doctor Monster haven’t made it their own by drastic reinvention, but their subtle twists certainly capture something special.
The classic ‘Stoner Witch’ album is only represented by one track, but Frack couldn’t have chosen much better than ‘Revolve’, with its post-rock/groove metal hybrid riff giving any discerning guitarist plenty to work with. Unfortunately – and probably likely due to the original being so perfect – their take on the tune comes up short in a lot of ways. The main riff is intact and still brilliant, but an iffy production job that lacks a little bass makes it sound a little too harsh. In addition, a really ugly vocal chews the lyric in a way that makes the performance sound like a loose run through. It’s not a dead loss, though: a bluesy lead guitar break – played in a higher key than such a tune would need – creates something a bit quirky, and the drums, alternating between a solid groove and manic rattle, are always completely on point.
A pair of numbers from the sometimes difficult ‘Stag’ are put through their paces by Bovine Nightmares and Work Party respectively. Bovine Nightmares decide, somewhat wisely, to play ‘The Bit’ faithfully, and its a good move as it creates a great showcase for their drummer, and the vocals adopt a more than passable Buzz-like drawl. More importantly, by sticking rigidly to the arrangement in hand, it shows off how well the band can shift between time signatures without sounding wantonly flashy, with the pseudo-Arabic riffs providing something of a highlight. Work Party’s take on ‘Skin Horse’ gives this tribute another unexpected twist by applying a clean, indie rock vocal during the opening verses, and even when the heavier moments arrive, there’s a sense of a weird indie act like Archers of Loaf supplying the heart of the sound. Moving through a shouty mid section and into a slow, semi-bluesy coda, this number shows off many facets of Work Party without actually giving any real idea of how their own material sounds – perhaps making it one of this tribute’s most interesting offerings. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the overlong and sometimes impenetrable ‘Stag’ LP hides some great tunes.
It’s only really Bondbreakr (featuring ex-Butthole Surfers man Jeff Pinkus) who’ve taken an opportunity to dig a little deeper and choose something from the vast array of post-90s recordings. Their rendition of ‘Bride of Crankenstein’ (originally from Melvins’ 2014 LP ‘Hold It In’) flaunts a heavy, distorted riff set against a growled and occasionally brattish vocal, showing how Melvins continued to sound relevant to the alternative metal scene(s) long after their perceived peak. The marriage of relentlessly heavy guitars, groove laden bass and banjo captures the arty nature of the track perfectly, and in under three minutes Bondbreakr not only signal their love for a great band but advertise themselves as a musical act to watch out for in their own right. This is a brilliant recording in every sense: the riffs dominate without sounding distorted; the shouty refrains straddle metal and hardcore perfectly, and the sharp production allows the intricate elements of the banjo to cut through with a pleasing clarity. Even though it’s a cover, it’s a great piece of alternative metal and everyone involved should be very proud of their efforts.
This disc from Black Donut Records barely scratches the surface in terms of what could be achieved via a great tribute. The material present is certainly good enough, and a few of the bands present themselves in a way that invites further exploration their respective catalogues, but at just ten songs and approximately thirty six minutes playing time, there was room for so much more. Still, settling for what’s been offered, it’s very strong – a reminder of how often underground bands continue to be hugely touched by a band who’ve reached veteran status – and definitely provides an interesting collection filler for the obsessive Melvins fan.
Watch a complete live set from Melvins here.
Thanks for the review. I get that it won’t appeal to everyone, and I’m glad you enjoyed some of it.. I love all of these bands and couldn’t be prouder to be putting this out.
To be fair, we enjoyed *most* of it! Thanks for sending it our way for review.