It is 2011 and the Melvins are finally taking over. Greet them as liberators. Or conquerors. Singer-guitarist-founder Buzz Osborne has led this band from playing his local Elk's Lodge in rural Washington state — “I have a hunch we're about to get our sinuses cleared!” says some unknown announcer on the Melvins' Mangled Demos From 1983 — to a new home in Los Angeles and the far shores of rock, metal, psychedelia, noise and … about everything but hip-hop so far, and remember that “so far” part.
In their wake you'll find a band called Nirvana (a certain whippersnapper calling himself Kurdt Cobain was a committed fan), as well as an almost-30-year discography that exhilarates some, alienates others and annihilates all. And just ahead of them is an unprecedented Friday-night January residency for Spaceland Productions at the Satellite, where the Melvins will deliver two sets weekly. One is for re-creating existing albums from memory. Like Houdini, Stoner Witch, Bullhead, Lysol, Eggnog — records that put lots of young minds through some vigorous exercise. The other is for whatever the hell they feel like doing. That's a good set of parameters for the Melvins: They know how to do just about everything, but they'll only do just what they want.
Osborne brings it up frequently in interviews: Even after all this time, the Melvins aren't now and aren't going to be what he derisively calls “an oldies act.” But things have actually worked the other way around. Any new young band copping even just the Melvins' early style would very likely get signed to a high-profile heavy-rock label and carry an adjective like “Melvins-esque” as a sign of accomplishment. The world has adjusted to accommodate the Melvins instead of the Melvins adjusting to the world.
And what's old to Osborne is still plenty fresh and exciting to several generations of Melvins fans. “I always felt as though the Melvins were ahead of their time,” says former Spaceland booker Shannon Cornett, who cites setting up this residency as her biggest professional accomplishment.
It's because there's just so much to the Melvins. Someone could dedicate himself completely to just one aspect of what the Melvins do. Like to songs so deliberate and heavy that they exude a physical presence through the speakers, or to the careful and perfect hooks that return a warped echo of bands like KISS and The Who, or to that particular quality that, as long as the Melvins exist, will always be referred to in the press as “sludge.” That's how you get the people who love Houdini, who love Stoner Witch, who love the new double-plus-good incarnation of the band that merges Osborne and drummer Dale Crover with the ferocious duo Big Business (bassist/singer Jared Warren, drummer Coady Willis).
Others could dedicate themselves to the Melvins in totality — not just the sludge but the albums like 2001's Colossus of Destiny, a 59-minute synth piece that could be called atmospheric, as long as you were thinking about the atmosphere on Venus, where space probes corrode and melt in minutes. To this day, Osborne says, they have hard-core fans who can't stand that record. Naturally, it's the very first one they'll play at their residency.
“I don't think that record's that weird, personally,” he says. “Compared to what? That's what people miss out on about us. We have a wide variety of things we like. We have a wide variety of things we wanna do.”
But in a way, what the Melvins do is very focused and simple. Or more correctly, it's what they don't do. Across almost 30 years of music — none of which, Osborne says, he apologizes for, but not all of which he still likes — you will rarely hear the Melvins attempting the middle road. They are a band that reaches for the extremes at every opportunity.
When they make “a rock song,” it is absolutely bristling with everything that makes a song “rock.” It will have as many moving parts and as much propulsive power as a jet engine. It will be as finely plotted as a seaborne invasion plan. It will pant and spasm with vitality like one of those feral children they sometimes drag out from Russian forests. The instruments will twin and triplet and tangle into each other, then snap apart for unexpected neck-wreck pauses. Things will “rip” and “shred” and “kill” and “destroy” and demonstrate the permanent primal efficacy of every praiseful adjective thought up by teenagers mentally replaying Sabbath albums as they wait for some bullshit detention to expire. That is a Melvins “rock” song.
And when they make “a heavy song,” it will bloom from its first note like tar into oil. It will be arranged in giant, open loops to capture and hold breath and unbreathed air. It will reduce successive layers of your speaker cones to their component atoms, and it will attach its own reverberating ghost to you for as long as it takes to open your eyes and recognize your ceiling glaring down at you. That is a Melvins “heavy” song.
And when they make a … well, you get the idea. They do this for everything they do.
At their best, the Melvins eliminate all the half-working, half-there, boring and not-really-necessary, good-enough-for-now contaminants in music. They fight their way up to the heaviest of the heavy, the slowest of the slow, the loudest of the loud. Wherever they decide they're going, they don't stop on the way. They arrive dead or alive — whichever better fits the song. Their most recent album (The Bride Screamed Murder, released last summer on “heavy insane shit” boutique label Ipecac) is one of their strongest, and for Osborne, there's no nostalgia. This residency is four nights of purity. Closer to 50 than 40, he's at what he calls the ultimate age. Why?
“I'm smarter than I've ever been,” he says. “And I'm still young enough to do whatever I want.”
THE MELVINS | 9 p.m. Fridays in January | the Satellite, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake | $20 | 21-plus | clubspaceland.com