WASHINGTON, August 26, 2013 – The Melvins are one of the most influential bands to come along in the last 30 some odd years. They have also proven to be one of the most anti-mainstream and anti-commercial bands in recent memory. But these distinctions often get lost in the shuffle of time. All this isn’t to say that the Melvins might have had greater success if they’d crossed over into mainstream at some point. Yet that very notion never seemed to cross the collective mind of the band during any of its incarnations.
Still when the Melvins performed recently at the 9:30 Club, the sizable audience in attendance spoke volumes, verifying this band’s enduring legacy—one that has outlasted most bands they inspired, directly or indirectly, those many years ago in Washington state. That’s because, for all intents and purposes, the Melvins are one of the originators of grunge, which was basically mainstream rock in the early ‘90s. Its deep influence can still be felt in many aspects of hard rock today.
The Melvins formed in Montesano, Washington in 1983. They were eventually regarded as the virtual godfathers of the Seattle grunge scene that spawned bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden.
The Melvins were and still largely are a mixture of hardcore punk and sludge metal. Their sound became highly influential and something that can clearly be heard on their albums, especially on the band’s earliest recordings. They weren’t a straight hardcore band. Instead, they concentrated on a more meticulously put-together sound package that was more concerned with bludgeoning their audience with articulated noise. In so doing, they left a lot of melody by the wayside. Their relatively nihilistic approach to music attracted a certain type of hardcore fan who wanted their punk/metal to get heavier and heavier.
When the bands they inspired started to gain considerable mainstream attention, eventually taking over the pop music world for a spell in the 1990s, the Melvins could have easily done the same thing and ridden on the coattails of their Washington compatriots. But instead, they stuck with their program and went screaming in the opposite direction of compromise.
Over the years, like many bands, the Melvins endured a steady stream of personnel changes. Today, Buzz Osbourne is their only remaining original member. In addition to Osbourne, Dale Crover became the band’s drummer in 1984 and has stayed with them ever since. Today’s edition adds Big Business bassist Jarred Warren and drummer Coady Willis to the band’s pair of old timers, rounding out the 2013 roster.
Even with the passage of time and various cast changes, however, the Melvins for the most part have stuck to their original ethos more staunchly than any other band of that era. When they play live, there are absolutely no compromises. They’ve developed a distinctive sound over the years and have stuck by their original idea of being the loudest, heaviest, and downright noisiest band to ever play live without wavering as much as an inch. This kind of consistency is in large measure why, after three decades, Melvins are still performing and still drawing crowds.
That said, the phrase “not for everyone” applies to the Melvins more than most. This band’s live shows are not for the timid or weak-willed. It’s a little difficult to convey in words the overwhelming impression the Melvins make on the human ear. Their metal-noise-rock sound is akin to putting one’s ear to speaker and cranking it up to full blast. This is what a Melvins show is all about, and when they performed the 9:30 Club they did not disappoint those in attendance.
A question arises, though. Can this kind of overwhelming sound become monotonous? If a band is just focused noise rock cranked up to the highest possible volume, doesn’t it simply get tiresome? The answer is yes and no. The Melvins’ can bludgeon you to the breaking point, true. But then, that’s likely the point of seeing and hearing this band live, at least for most of their fans.
Seeing the Melvins live is indeed a sonic experience that isn’t really comparable to any other band out there. Osbourne’s mannered growl, Crowder and Willis’ dual drumming attacks, and Warren’s thick, protruding bass have all been imitated over the years. But when you hear the real thing, all the imitators begin to sound like cheap knockoffs of the Melvins’ sonic vision. The band is still all about focusing on the wall sound and never letting it go until the show is over. Happily, the audience’s hearing will return in a few days time.
The Melvins don’t have to be louder and heavier than any other band. They already are. And in effect, they’ve become like a measuring stick for anyone else that might be courting the same audience. For all intents and purposes, the Melvins are now an institution.
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