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Melvins, ‘A Walk With Love & Death’ – Album Review

Melvins-Love&Death-Cover
Ipecac Records

Just over a year since the ambitious double take of the Basses Loaded LP and collaborative Three Men and a Baby record, the Melvins have returned with what on the surface appears to be an equally determined effort with their first double album in A Walk With Love & Death.

In truth, the collection isn’t a cohesive or connected work by any stretch. Set into two distinctive halves, disc one is “Death” with two titled “Love,” the assemblage is part studio album (“Death”) and part soundtrack to an upcoming short-film by Jesse Nieminen (“Love”).

“Death” on its own is a fantastic record. Opening with the languid and lengthy mood piece “Black Heath,” driven by Steven McDonald’s equally playful and brooding bass maneuverings. The track bleeds almost seamlessly into “Sober-Delic (Acid Only),” another dour number that stretches itself out over six minutes. Revisiting their sludge roots on “Euthanasia,” frontman Buzz Osborne howls into the ether before the song is drenched in cascading guitar soloing over the menacing beat.

That Dog singer Anna Waronker takes a welcome guest turn on “What’s Wrong With You?,” a spiky, punk-infused track. Later on the record, Le Butcherettes frontwoman Teri Gender Bender appears on “Cactus Party,” adding some fiery background to the song. Elsewhere, Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago provides “extra guitar,” according to the liner notes.

Overall, the “Death” side of A Walk With Love & Death is classic Melvins, from the thumping “Edgar the Elephant” to the weaving, schizophrenic delight of “Christ Hammer,” which Loudwire premiered back in May, and even the weirded-out closer, the chugging “Cardboa Negro.” It’s what fans have come to expect — often the unexpected — from a band who has never played by the rules.

Then there’s the “Love” side of things – and this is where the listener’s patience is going to be tested to the highest degree. Yes, it’s a soundtrack, but not in the way that Bernard Herrmann’s music accompanied Alfred Hitchcock’s films perfectly, but could also exist on their own merit as standalone pieces.

None of that exists on “Love.”

To try to review what at best can be described as an off kilter avant-garde work would be like attempting to provide insightful commentary to a conversation one can barely hear from the other side of the wall while a foreign radio station blares in the background. It’s all over the place, with snippets of what might be dialogue from the upcoming film, also titled A Walk With Love & Death, sprinkled with echoes of instrumentation but nothing resembling a fully-formed song in the traditional sense.

To frame it a different way, no one is going to put “Chicken Butt” or “Eat Yourself Out” on the top of any Melvins’ list, unless it’s “funniest song titles.” Then again, band drummer Dale Crover has described A Walk With Love & Death as “one giant, dark, moody, psychotic head trip,” and he certainly can’t be accused of false advertising.

Maybe “Love” will make more sense when it’s put into the context of the short film, but it will never be more than an oddity that came along with what is otherwise one of the most solid albums (“Death”) the Melvins have produced to date.

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