The last five years have seen the Melvins conjure opportunity out of chaos. In that time, fans have been treated to a double-drummer rhythm section, a record-breaking 51-day tour spanning performances in every one of the United States of America and various recordings featuring stand-up bass player Trevor Dunn, members of Butthole Surfers and Krist Novoselic on accordion, as well as the band's original 1983 lineup.
The band have long had a seeming revolving door policy when it comes to bassists, but recent releases have seen the Melvins' low-end switch-ups reaching Spinal Tap proportions. Perhaps in an effort to embrace the absurdity, 2016's Basses Loaded saw a total of six different musicians credited with bottom-end duties.
So while the only person in charge of the four-string on A Walk With Love & Death is Steven McDonald of Redd Kross fame, disorder is still the name of the game. Somewhat miraculously, Walk is the group's first double-album, offering up a stand-alone LP (Death) as well as a score to a yet-unreleased short produced by the band and directed by Jesse Nieminen (Love).
It's hard to say anything especially truly meaningful about noise soundtrack Love, on account of not having access to the accompanying film. Comprised mostly of exercises in assembled and "assorted noise," it's unlikely the score will spawn any lifers in the way that a Mogwai soundtrack might. That being said, the Melvins have and always will be masters of racket, and hearing them twiddle some knobs is worth diehards' time.
Standalone album Death is a little more revealing. Despite all signs pointing to a smooth integration on the part of McDonald, the music here still bears the miscellany that has characterized the band's last half-decade. In a word, the album is inconsistent. Much of it plays like a Best Of compilation, without any of the tracks actually being the best display of any of the Melvin's many musical strengths. The studio-cut version of longtime live fan favourite "Euthanasia" is a treat, but like the rest of the sludgier offerings on the album, it makes the group sound all too much like they're trying to reanimate a past self.
"Flaming Creature" features one of the best Buzz riffs in a long time, but still comes off sounding like a Big Business-era outtake. "Black Health," "Sober-delic," "Edgar the Elephant" and "Cardboa Negro" are the most compelling tracks, showcasing a midtempo churn where McDonald's rock'n'roll pedigree really shines. Not only is his seasoned groove a perfect match for the band's recent macabre take on '60s and '70s pop rock, but his backup vocals provide a raw and cutting counterpoint to Buzz's bellow.
Despite the presence of these successes, Death still sounds like a band treading water. It would be unfair to accuse the Melvins of resting on their laurels, but the main locus of their ambition seems to be increasingly found in PR write-ups for tours and B-sides releases. Kings of reinvention, there should be no doubt that the Melvins are still capable of sounding dangerous, even if it's by hook not dagger. A Walk With Love & Death gives hope that the band might slow down just enough to harness that danger. (Ipecac)