Melvins are often credited for being the instigators of sludge metal, and rightly so. Their bassy, static dirge has been reverberating the walls of venues across the world since their beginnings way back in the 80s. The doomy, ominous riffage for which they have become synonymous influenced not only the grunge legends Nirvana, but the proggy titans Tool and metal’s current torchbearers Mastodon.
Freak Puke is the eighteenth Melvins album and the ninth on Ipecac records. Despite the album sleeve naming Melvins as the recording artist, Freak Puke is in fact a product of the Melvins-Lite moniker – a slimmed down version of the Seattle doom merchants. Mainstays Buzz Osborne (guitar/vocals) and Dale Crover (drums) are joined by Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn.
The 10-track, 42 minute odyssey of noise showcases a band with a vision – to make faces crumble from deep bass grooves and erratic, offbeat rhythms. The opening couplet of ‘Mr. Rip Off’ and ‘Inner Ear Rupture’ is akin to the unsettling atmosphere of a Hammer horror flick with the frantic violin-string flailing that remains a constant throughout the LP. Osborne’s voice verges on the edge of Bowie while the guitar/drum combo resemble Frank Zappa‘s ‘Dancing Fool’.
Once the weirder elements have been dealt with early on, it’s a string of rock songs for the most-part. The punkier ‘Baby, Won’t You Weird Me Out’ is a mesh of high and low vocals intertwined with a droning bass solo for which Melvins are the maestros. ‘Worm Farm Waltz’ and ‘A Growing Disgust’ are big-sounding rawk tracks that are intentionally odd and laden with brain-bubbling instrumentals and Primus-esque experimentalism.
Throughout the band’s almost 30 year history they’ve barely changed their sound. The underlying stoner rock ethos is coupled with the groove metal and progressive nuances to forge a gargantuan skull-rattling dirge that often seems disjointed but brilliantly structured. Melvins are craftsmen of the sludge scene they created and of haunting rock ‘n’ roll.
Their ties to rock ‘n’ roll are brought to the fray in their cover of Paul McCartney & Wings‘ ‘Let Me Roll It’ – the first (and only) conventionally-structured song on the album. As is frequently the case with metal covers, artists alter the song to ‘make it their own’ and as far removed from the original as possible. Melvins have managed to merge their purring noise and slow-motion vocals with the the 70s rockers chirpier disposition that culminates in an anthemic chorus that would make Bon Jovi blush. Within the context of the rest of the record the upbeat, singalong nature feels slightly out of place, but as a stand-alone track you can’t fault its catchiness or sheer grandiosity.
Album closer ‘Tommy Goes Beserk’ clocks in at just under 10 minutes – almost a quarter of the LP. As a band Melvins never fit the mould and defied convention, shunning the benefits the mainstream limelight provides. Rarely penning a generic three minute romper to bother the radio, each track lasts as long as it needs to – ranging from almost ten minutes to just under two. The drawn-out, shoegazy world of Americanised new wave that ‘Tommy…’ provides transcends into a frantic rush of up tempo beats with a proper rock guitar solo weaved inside. The whimsical vocals are twinned with the storming pace of biker rock that rages on until climaxing in a discerning echo of screams, whirrs and honks. A satisfyingly strange and unnerving finale to the album, but how else could it end?