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The Melvins - Hostile Ambient Takeover Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 April 2002

The Melvins

Hostile Ambient Takeover
format: CD
label: Ipccac Recordings
release year: 2002
performance: 8
sound 6.5
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

ImageRemember when grunge music was actually cool? I never bought into it 100%, but I did have my fair share of Nirvana and Pearl Jam CDs back in the day, but if you want to know where the birth of grunge music took place, don’t go looking in Kurt Cobain’s garage. The Melvins are arguably the most influential group in the world of grunge music, but don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of them. The first week’s sales of any Nirvana or Soundgarden album back in their heyday were higher than the Melvin’s entire catalogue of indie releases put together. The Melvins never “sold out” and to this day still enjoy a great deal of respect as pioneers of a genre of music that may be well out of the public spotlight but defined the early ‘90s as glam rock faded away.

As far as Melvins’ records go, their new album Hostile Ambient Takeover is one of their least grungy-sounding albums to date. If Frank Zappa had gotten together with Primus, Tool and Mr. Bungle for a garage band jam session, the result would probably have sounded like much The Melvins. In fact, Tool guitarist Adam Jones makes a musical cameo on Hostile Ambient Takeover, playing on several tracks. Overall, the sound is a little progressive, with some odd time signatures fused with heavy guitar riffs and silly lyrics.

The opening track “Black Stooges” is simply 31 seconds of an ultra-cliché rock drum part that sounds like an intermediate level drum student practicing his weekly exercises. The first real song, ironically titled “Untitled,” is a continuation of the opening drum part, but it immediately breaks down into an ultra-heavy syncopated metal riff. On the immediate surface, the Melvins sound like a garage band, but when you really listen to what is going on, you’ll find an extremely talented and imaginative musical trio with chops so prodigious that they were once given an opening spot on tour with Canadian art rockers Rush.

Because this album has basically no chance of being played on anything but college radio at about two o’clock in the morning, you’ll find a whole bunch of sonic noodling in the longer tracks, such as the seven-minute-and-49-second song “The Fool, The Meddling Idiot.” It opens with nearly two minutes of guitar feedback over a low guitar riffs, with occasional drum flurries and cymbal crashes. The song grinds along through the vocals, then ends with a futuristic and trippy synth outro that feels like something out of a college student film remake of “Halloween” before segueing back into the same drum pattern that opened the record. If you can hang on for the entire ride, you’ll be glad you did.

Another killer track is “Foaming,” with a staccato guitar riff mixed with bluesy note bends that keep the music strutting along. In between verses, the song breaks down into odd time instrumental interludes that hold it together like some strange form of sonic glue. It could have easily sound like a big mess, but The Melvins somehow tie their seemingly random musical ideas into neat little bows.

Hostile Ambient Takeover sounds like a very well-recorded but obviously low-budget album. There aren’t a lot of production tricks, except for some vocal effects on the voice of lead singer/guitarist King Buzzo (affectionately known as Buzz by his friends). You’ll find some cool sounds on the track “Foaming” that resemble “Star Wars” laser blasters swimming in reverb, and the track “The Anti-Vermin Seed” features some highly processed drum sounds during the extended intro. When it finally comes time for the song to kick in, the studio tricks tend to fall away and the music becomes the focus.

Despite the fact that Hostile Ambient Takeover is shorter than most Weezer albums at a mere 46 minutes, it’s time well spent if you are sick and tired of commercial, boring rock music. The Melvins won’t be swimming down the mainstream anytime soon, so you’ll have to go check them out on my recommendation.

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