For nearly three decades, Dale Crover and Roger “King Buzzo” Osborne have been the de facto Simon And Garfunkel, Sonny & Cher, or Hall & Oates of sludge metal’s underground universe. Quite simply, no other pair could lay claim to such a weirdly incongruous moniker than the Melvins—a band that’s tirelessly reinvented itself in ways both freaky and bizarre since its 1987 debut, Gluey Porch Treatments.
The only constant governing the band’s immense catalog—158 releases and counting—is the inclination to shun repetition in favor of occasional kitsch. Rather than relying solely on grating feedback and percussive dissonance, the Melvins layer quirks and spontaneity over waves of down-tuned, auditory tumults. The approach is just as measured and deliberate as it is seemingly ironic. Unpredictability has become something of a stylistic trademark for the band over the last 29 years: As Buzzo noted in 2014, “There is no standard anything to what we do.”
Because rules are anathema to the Melvins, it should be no surprise that the band’s latest effort, Basses Loaded, might more readily suffice as a demented circus soundtrack as opposed to a jukebox staple. As the record boasts contributions from a revolving door of bassists—Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle and Fantômas), Jared Warren (Big Business and the Melvins), Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), and Crover all wield the instrument—it offers a crash course in the Melvins’ musical dexterity.
“The Decay Of Living” homes in on the erratic, stop-and-go stylings of the band’s more accessible albums, with Stoner Witch coming to mind in particular. As the song lumbers forward, it’s befitting of a spaghetti western soundtrack, offering a sharp divergence from the muscular trappings of album standouts like “Captain Come Down” and “Choco Plumbing.”
There’s an explicitly goofy side to Basses Loaded. Some songs might seem like mere gags—there’s the limerick-infused, polka stomp of “Shaving Cream,” and even a straightforward version of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”—but they don’t necessarily seem misplaced or bereft of context. In fact, the record veers into straight-up swing jazz on “Planet Destructo,” offering a wild standup bass solo played by Dunn. Novoselic’s contribution is also a bit juxtaposed a traditional hard-rock milieu: The harmonica-heavy twang of “Maybe I Am Amused” sounds like a tribute to the Meat Puppets, which is no surprise, given Nirvana’s love for the band’s erratic, folksy charm.
Occasionally, King Buzzo’s riffs feel ham-fisted, like the band’s trying to play metal for the sake of being metal. That side of the record accounts for a few tracks that feel like filler rather than sustenance. “War Pussy” and “Phyllis Dillard” are both blatantly groove-heavy and ramble into snoozes before reaching their moot conclusions. But that doesn’t form a deal breaker. The Melvins are prolific without taking heed of their stature or prominence, and Basses Loaded is a testament to their nonchalant and fiercely inventive place in the world of loud and angry music.