Melvins have always been a band to tread elsewhere than the beaten path. From their uncompromising sojourn on major label Atlantic Records in the mid-90's to their leftfield collaborations with Lustmord and Jello Biafra, this is one group that feels no compulsion to feed their fans anything they'd previously come to expect… which is exactly why they remain so revered among fans of metal, punk and all forms of experimental music a solid three decades into their existence.
Strangely enough, then, A Walk With Love and Death marks the band's first double album, and in true restless form there's not much consistency to be had here either. In fact, the album is essentially two radically divergent projects shoehorned into one (at times) awkward package: a fairly conventional Melvins album – for whatever that's worth – called Death, followed by a full length film score for a short directed by a friend of the band, Jesse Nieminen (title, of course, Love).
The latter portion of the program in particular is liable to be a bit of a tough slog for even the most stalwart fans of the Melvins' more experimental work. Consisting primarily of short pieces that lean heavily on found sounds (much of it presumably processed dialogue snippets from the film), abrasive shards of tuneless noise, and liberal use of ambient noise, the soundtrack seems to offer little cohesion outside the context of the film, and little to recommend it as a standalone listening experience.
Death is what you're really here for, then, and I'm happy to report this half of the album is some of the strongest work the Melvins have produced in recent years. This album re-establishes some stability at the bass position, with Redd Kross' Steven McDonald returning for a second go-round after guesting on the group's previous LP, last year's instrument-specific extravaganza Basses Loaded. McDonald brings a bit more range to the band with his alt-punk pedigree than the WYSIWYG sludge bottom end of Jarred Warren (Big Business), McDonald's most prolific predecessor over the past decade or so.
"Black Heath" opens things up with a spare, spring-loaded bass riff that borders on skeletal funk, but could have easily rendered the track yet another sludge metal entry in the band's catalog if it had been produced a bit differently. "Sober-delic" moves us a bit closer to classic Melvins territory, a slow simmer that hovers between dirge and melancholy, occasionally offering up one of King Buzzo's guitar hero riffs. "Euthanasia" and "Christ Hammer" fill the requisite sludge quota to strong effect, with "Edgar the Elephant" and "Flaming Creature" also featuring monster riffs mitigated with a playful vocal performance from Buzzo and a cache of auxiliary sounds and instruments. Terri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes) guest sings on the downright sunny "Cactus Party", a 60's acid pop throwback updated, of course, to the loud volume standards the Melvins long ago set for themselves.
So yeah, we're definitely talking a strange pairing of musical efforts here, one easily more consequential than the other, but if Buzzo and the boys needed to get some high concept wankery out of their system to produce another quasi-classic Melvins album for the 21st century, who am I to tell them to scale it back?
Score: (Death): 9/10, (Love): 2/10