Artist Spotlight: Melvins (or; How To Leave Town Before the Gold Rush) [Part 7 of 11]

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.

Electror*tard 2001

On February 6, 2001, Melvins released Electror*tard. Sometimes it’s credited as an album, but really it’s more of an odds n’ sods affair. It was released initially on Man’s Ruin about 14 minutes before the label folded, and it was rare for many years, but has since been reissued in 2015, and again in 2020.

This has some previous released stuff, some remixed stuff, and some new recordings. “Shit Storm” is just a back masked “Revolve”, with some additional noises. “Revolve” gets a complete re-recording as well (same with “Gluey Porch Treatments”), in a sort of electronic version. There’s an alternate version of Stag’s “Tipping the Lion”, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive”, and a cover of The Cows’ “Missing”.

The real winner here, however, is the cover of Wipers’ “Youth of America”.

Not really sure the reason for this collection, I didn’t find much about why it exists (but I remember paying a pretty penny on eBay for it back in the day). I suspect it’s just to have some product as a stop gap between albums.

Fantomas – The Director’s Cut (2001) / Tomahawk – Tomahawk (2001)

When Fantomas toured, they filled out their setlist with an Al Green cover, a Slayer Medley, and some soundtrack covers. From that experience, Mike Patton, Buzz Osborne, Dave Lombardo, and Trevor Dunn started working out a collection movie soundtrack covers. The result was The Director’s Cut, which is often considered the best Fantomas album.

But, Patton got his hooks in another member of the Melvins. Fantomas rehearsal space was right above Melvins’ space, and through that connection, Patton drafted bassist Kevin Rutmanis into Tomahawk, his project with Duane Dennison (Jesus Lizard) and John Stainer (Helmet, Battles). “In Tomahawk, I don’t really write that stuff. That is easily the straightest job I’ve ever had, which is fine,” Rutmanis said. “I’m really glad I’m in that band, but it’s really dictated to me pretty much. I bring some ideas up and they listen, but Duane writes pretty much all the music, and then Patton will come up with arrangements, samples, vocals and all that.”

Hostile Ambient Takeover (2002)

Melvins reconvened to a studio in North Hollywood for three weeks to record, Hostile Ambient Takeover. “That’s a long time for us. I think in general, bands spend way too much time in the studio, nitpicking over things and worrying about things, instead of just letting a good performance come out of the whole thing,” drummer Dale Crover said. “I mean, I think I probably made mistakes on almost every song…not necessarily mistakes but just…not necessarily things that I had planned to play.”

“It went pretty smoothly. No one started crying. Well, when you think of recording, you’re thinking of people sitting up all night. People screaming and yelling. We didn’t want to do that,” guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne said. “We only wanted to be in the studio for twenty days and at the end whatever we have that’s what we’re putting out. So that’s what we did. It worked out fine and I’m really happy with what we did. But, Jesus, after 18 albums I think we might know our way around.”

Hostile Ambient Takeover was received well by the fanbase at large. It has the distinction of not sounding like any of the previous albums, but it sounds exactly like The Melvins. It’s heavy, it’s noisy, it has weird asides, like the heavy synth diversion at the end of “The Fool, The Meddling Idiot”.

From January 29 through March 11, 2003 the band released every song as a single, each limited to 2500 copies. Each single had an unreleased cover as the B-Side, except for “The Anti-Vermin Seed”, which was continued from the A-Side onto the B-Side because of its length. The B-Sides were collected and released in 2020 on CD in a collection titled Hostile Ambient Besides, which means I wasted $80 on those singles in 2004.

The Fantomas Melvins Big Band – Millennium Monsterwork 2000 (2002)

Someone, somewhere, had the idea for the Melvins and Fantomas to perform together, on the same stage, at the same time. What better time than New Year’s Eve? The set was recorded both from an audience source and a soundboard source. “That whole record was recorded with an audience mic and from the board. Each one on its own really didn’t sound that good. With the audience, you get a lot of yelling from people,” Crover said. “From the board you mostly get drums and vocals. So, we had this friend of ours, who’s a computer genius, to combine the two and it came out great…really good. I think that when we went to master the record, this guy that does the mastering thought that the drum sounds were better than most of the studio recordings that he gets from people. We were really happy to hear him say that. And it’s a true live record than what some bands will do when they go in and record the whole record in the studio.”

Tomahawk – Mit Gas (2003)

On May 6, 2003, Tomahawk released Mit Gas. Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis was still on board, but after the tour the band would take an extended hiatus. When the band reconvened in 2007 to record Anonymous, Rutmanis was out of the band.

Fantomas – Delerium Cordia (2004)

Starting off a busy year for Buzz Osborne, Fantomas released Delerium Cordia on January 27, 2004. The album is a single track lasting a little over 74 minutes and spanning noise, drone, easy listening and some metal. It’s the same lineup as it has been, but this time Osborne also contributes keyboards.

Melvins / Lustmord – Pigs of the Roman Empire (2004)

Always looking for the next thing that they haven’t done yet, Melvins teamed up with dark ambient artist Lustmord. “We are huge fans of his band SPK. They’re simply indescribable,” Osborne said. “That’s why we wanted to work with him. We let him do what he does and it just sounded great with the music we had in mind for the record. People will surely have their opinions about it, as they always do. Melvins records are never universally accepted, but we’re cool with that.”

The band was introduced to Lustmord through mutual friend Adam Jones, guitarist for Tool. “[Lustmord] would come down to the studio but he never really messed with what we were doing… then we would turn things over to him and then he would work his magic on it,” Osborne said. “Some of the stuff we did ourselves without any help from him and vice versa, but I won’t separate out which is which. I prefer to let people decide that for themselves. Adam Jones helped by playing a little guitar, but he didn’t write any songs or anything.”

Pigs of the Roman Empire was released on August 23, 2004. The copy I got back in the day was defective, so I never did get around to listening to the whole thing. The fan favorites are “The Bloated Pope” and “Pink Bat”, which sounds the most like Melvins, anyway.

Jello Biafra with the Melvins – Never Breathe What You Can’t See (2004)

Pigs is often overshadowed by the band’s first collaboration with Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, which was released on October 19, 2004. Never Breathe What You Can’t See was a long gestating album over a year and a half in the making.

“[Biafra]’s only been a fan of our band for the past couple years. Maybe three and a half years. He heard our cover of Alice Cooper’s ‘Halo of Flies’. We started talking through a mutual admiration of Alice Cooper,” Osborne said. “Jello is a weird guy… He’s eccentric, but not dumb.”

“Yeah, he’s an interesting fellow. He’s really musical, which was a surprise to me. He must have had way more to do with those Dead Kennedys songs that we realized, because he’s got a lot of song ideas,” Rutmanis said. “He’ll sing us the song. He’ll say, ‘I’ve got this idea for a melody’, and he’ll sing it to us and we’ll work on it.”

“He doesn’t play an instrument, he sings the music into a tape recorder. Even when we were working on stuff, he’ll go ‘Wait, I got an idea,’ and he’ll sing it to us,” Crover said. “And he’s a big music fan, he’s got so many records.”

“He’s got tens of thousands of records. I asked him how many rockabilly records he has and he said ‘at least 2,500 different rockabilly records,’ Osborne added. “Jello’s written a few songs, we’ve written a few, and it’s sounding really great.”

The album is a straight forward rock and punk record.  There aren’t any of the usual, weird Melvins diversions. Everything sounds like Biafra by virtue of having Biafra’s voice, but “Caped Crusader” sounds like Biafra fronting Tool, while “”Enchanted Thoughtfist” sounds like Jello fronting L7, before swerving into the Melvins sludge sound halfway through.

Venomous Concept – Retroactive Abortion (2004)

Venomous Concept was formed by Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharpe and Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury after they had long discussion about their love of punk. They rounded out the line up with Napalm Death’s Danny Herrera on drums, and Osborne on guitar… because he wasn’t busy enough. Osborne would tour for the album, but after that he became too busy, and was no longer involved with the band. It’s not really my thing, but I had to mention it.

Fantomas – Suspended Animation / “Animali In Calore Surriscaldati Con Ipertermia Genitale” (2005)

On April 5, 2005, Fantomas released Suspended Animation, which was a concept album that focused on cartoon style music, and included a calendar that celebrated little known holidays from all over the world.

Fantomas then released a split single with Melt Banana (is there any more perfect pairing?) with a song titled “Animali In Calore Surriscaldate Con Ipertermia Genitale”. Translated, it roughly means: “Animals In Overheated Heat With Genital Hyperthermia”. So, be sure to have your grandma embroider it on a throw pillow.

Fantomas toured for Suspended Animation, and then went on hiatus. There was a DVD release by Fantomas Melvins Big Band titled Live From London 2006, but all has been quiet since then.

To be continued…