A Senile Animal
or two decades the Melvins have been riding the dark horse around the carousel of popular tastes, their sludge tone steed rising and falling on the prominence pole every half decade or so, allowing main-Melvin-stays Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover the chance to discard a bassist or get picked up by a different label. The release of A Senile Animal marks a new peak for the Melvins. Coming in the midst of a resurgent interest in Sabbath and their greasy be-lock-ed head-banging ilk, the Melvins’ snarling dirges sound more prescient than they have—or will—for the next decade.
So how do you burly it up when you’ve already proven you’ve got more ball hair than a silverback gorilla fight? If you’re the Melvins, you get in touch with the distorted bass and drums metal duo Big Business and devour them wholesale—a move that makes this particular animal a symbiotic organism. For the Melvins, the hired gun rhythm section allows them to flesh out the grime with some grit, tightening up a tendency towards riff-gasmic repetition with more concentrated compositions. For Big Business, it forces them to chill out on some of the more Hetfield-ish hysterics of their 2004 debut Head for the Shallow, adding some dynamics and a newfound groove to the considerable weaponry of their chops.
Two bands means twice the sound. This is a logic that deflates when you think there are really only four people playing between the two bands, but then slowly reinflates, bulges, and bursts in your face when you attempt to wade through the bog mud density of this album’s sound. The bass is monstrous, and the guitar for its part only needs to double the rhythm in between solos to contribute to the sequoia thickness pervading every track.
But axes be damned, the main weight to the sound comes from the drums, which are double tracked with a surprising amount of skill and nuance, especially given the fact that having two drummers in a rock band (generally) strikes me as lame, Lame, LAME. But lameness be damned, they did it; in large part playing the same rhythm to a properly ass kicking effect (such as in opener “The Talking Horse”). Yet other times it feels that the double drumming isn’t written for the song so much as to impress marching band drummers who are looking for a way out of being called pussies by the rockers in home room (e.g. “You’ve Never been Right”). Although the percussion duo of Carver and Businessman Coady Willis beat the skins with admirable mercilessness, the net effect doesn’t seem as great as the effort they both clearly expended making these tracks, which is still cool in a certain musician-challenging light, but not a light that will shine on this album for every listener.
Like any “heavy” album worth its predicate, each track can be divided by what substance best suits it; with the revved up face kickers grabbing for the bottle, and the riff wallowing slow burners searching bongwards. Aforementioned opener “The Talking Horse” is an example of the former, a diesel stinking speaker blower that benefits from multiple vocal performances (a chorus of Arrayas and, of course, Hetfields), and some nuggets of buried percussion subtlety. “A History of Bad Men” is the best example of the latter. With a groove wide enough to hide a body in, the track is doom insinuated. It also marks a new high for Big Business’ vocals department, which sounds about an inch away from being almost kinda bluesy.
While the sound that coalesces on this album is noteworthy, most of the tracks aren’t. The problem is the wallow factor; riffs build, cascade, and crush with such repetition and uniformity it can be mechanical. Maybe as a senile animal, the album just forgets that it’s doing the same thing for a similar effect; or maybe that’s the point. Regardless, it’s a good listen for aficionados of heaviness, but not something that is going to take new listeners from zero to Melvin in its ten tracks.
Reviewed by: Sam Roudman
Reviewed on: 2006-10-17