The impact of Grunge music in the early 1990s after the phenomenal success of Nirvana’s Nevermind album is not to be underestimated. Many bands who loved Nirvana sought out similar sounding groups and their earlier influences to recognize how it got to the point that this (then) new musical movement got attention. One of the early influencers of the genre, the Melvins were signed to a major label after many numerous mentions by Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain about how much their music was an influence on Nirvana and this album, often seen as their best and most popular for sure, was released in 1993 after being signed to Atlantic Records. Let’s take a listen to this album, named after the famous magician Harry Houdini, which has some production input by Kurt Cobain himself. It should be a historic listen for sure.
The album begins with Hooch which has some calculated drum rolls, before going into a very Black Flag sounding piece. It has some interesting drop tuned guitars and some very nice growl style singing/screaming. It’s better than expected, and sounds very awesome. A powerful and awesome song, the rhythm here sounds massive, and the riff based guitars are awesome here. Nice tune, a really good start to this album.
Following is Night Goat which begins with some expertly played fuzz bass, which definitely sounds different. The rest of the band shortly follow with palm muted guitars and pounding drums. It is very well done. The vocals do follow the Nirvana trick of exhibiting pain and emotion, but not in such a personal way that Kurt Cobain ever did. It has a very good and brief Grunge guitar solo, before going into the instrumental bridge. Really underrated and awesome music, the singing and screaming alternating here is pseudo-Metal and fantastic, it fits the music perfectly. A bloodcurdling wail then indicates the differing sections here of musical accomplishment. All in all, a great tune with many surprises, especially the tortured sounding feedback guitar parts towards the end. Grunge was here, and it would not go away easily. It has a lengthy fade out, definitely worth hearing.
Lizzy follows, beginning with a slow hi-hat intro, a really awesome clean guitar riff and a sense that something great is here. Some gorgeous harmonies then enter, followed by a great bass guitar part. It sounds super suspenseful, and follows by breaking into the crashing sound of chaos. It goes from stop/start and quiet/loud without warning, a typical Grunge sort of thing. Really awesome listening, it is clear that these guys had a musical mission that is unique and totally different to other bands out there. In the second half, it goes into a great semi-guitar solo which is super quiet, before relaunching back into the chaos. The vocals are borderline Metal screaming here, a really wonderful and awesome listen throughout. The outro is suspenseful, with some guitar harmonics and an eerie outro. Brilliant.
Goin’ Blind begins with some powerful and simple drum leads, before launching straight into some super heavy guitars. This is definitely a nod towards Black Sabbath and Black Flag here. Shortly into it, singing that is original and incredible emerges. This song maybe is a reference to Black Sabbath’s own Snowblind, a song about Cocaine use. Very very cool, this is music that is intellectually driven, inspired and simple. It also proves that not all Grunge was limited to Nirvana. A strange and odd guitar solo enters, which sounds cool and unique. A really top tune, this sounds loud and warped, in an incredibly powerful way. Nobody sounds quite like Melvins do, which makes this record even more appealing. Great stuff, this album is not to be ignored. It ends with subtle drumrolls and a sustained chord fade out.
Next along is Honey Bucket which begins with some awesomely structured and rapid paced guitars, along with some thunderous drumming. This is quite like Thrash Metal, but structured in a Jazz styled way. It’s cool and great to hear all the same, with many chugging guitar parts that sound brilliant. All of this is in a three minute piece. Some excellent vocals then enter, which have some flanger effects on them. The drumming and sludgy guitar work power this along, and this is fresh listening. A really awesome and great listen, it stops at the end early, finishing with some quiet electronic sounds.
After that is Hag Me which begins with some loose drums, distorted guitars and a great beginning to this seven minute epic. It soon enough, launches into a thunderous and great piece of dirty, dark Grunge that sounds really awesome. This definitely is suspenseful and nicely structured, every moment here is an exciting one. Soon enough, the vocals enter here and this piece gets rocking. It is a slow piece to begin with, with the guitars being at the fore and being very dramatic. Great sounding tune, it sounds interesting and full of dynamics. Once again, this is not a million miles away from Black Sabbath, but it is so good that you will never be bored of hearing this awesome tune. Really cool and powerful, if you like Punk, Metal, Hard Rock and especially Grunge, this is a winner of an album for you. It is slow, but very intense sounding, with the group exhibiting aggression in a restrained manner. In the second half, it goes into a section of palm-muted chugging guitars and minimal drum beats to match. The bloodcurdling vocals sound awesome and brilliant, too. Great tune, seven minutes of music most recommended. It ends with more electronic sounds, segueing into the next track.
Set Me Straight is next, a short piece at barely over two minutes long. It has some really cool guitar parts here, reminiscent of The Sex Pistols and some more direct singing than before. A short and different piece of melodic Grunge pop with harmonies included, this sounds really excellent. A cool and straightforward sounding song by Melvins who are essentially followed a great tradition of USA based harder music. Great to hear. It ends quickly.
Sky Pup begins with the sound of drumsticks being hit, leading into a different sounding song that is mainly bass guitar led. This is quirky sounding music, even for the Melvins on this album. Pounding drums and electronic sounds propel this piece along, with some weird vocals and speech in the background. Definitely odd, there are watery sounds galore, and a strange keyboard solo as well. It showcases the bass guitar as the main melodic instrument, and something that should have been done more so on many Rock records in the past. No guitars, just a strange yet great tune to listen to. Good piece of music which has another lengthy electronic fade out.
Next along is Joan of Arc which refers to the legendary tale from long ago. Chugging guitars enter, followed by a voice in the background, some chanted dual tracked harmonies and a sense of another great music moment. The screaming leads into the song itself, which is slow, but invites you to bang your head along with this piece. Some further chanted vocals and sludgy sounding guitars go into your ears and will take you by surprise at how good this is. The singing leading into screaming here is really insane, this sounds truly awesome. It ends prematurely with some distant vocal sample, followed by some random drums and basslines. Quirky, yet great.
Following is Teet begins with a hi-hat led intro, thundering drums and feedback heavy guitars. The drums and basslines get going, quickly launching into a very good song that sounds more normal for the Melvins. It is full of subdued and fiery energy, a bit like Hardcore Punk or Thrash Metal, just a lot slower and more intelligently delivered. The singing here is spot on, too. It finishes with a load of distorted guitars and feedback that gets quite annoying, and can hurt one’s ears after a bit. Another good listen here, despite that.
Copache begins with some more distorted guitars verging on feedback. Obviously, this album is a great demonstration of very loud guitars. Bass guitar, then drums enter to showcase a far more aggressive side of the Melvins. It sounds like Black Sabbath updated for the early 1990s, and a bit more lively that some of their pieces, too. It is another really good song, and worth listening, too.
Pearl Bomb may refer to the bombing of Pearl Harbour in World War II. It begins with a looped electronic pattern, which is somewhat like a machine gun. This goes on for around half a minute, before a Dead Kennedys styled bass guitar section enters. Needless to say, this is another really excellent effort, despite the fact that this sort of thing could get on some peoples nerves. A whispered singing vocal then enters. Surprisingly catchy for all its minimalism, this is still worth hearing. It ends quickly.
Last here is the 10 minute plus piece Spread Eagle Beagle which begins with some thundering drums, oddly sound effect based percussion and a strange sort of rhythm about this piece. The percussion here is affected by electronics, making it sound completely different to many recorded drum sounds to this day. This goes on for some time, with a few changes in the rhythm pattern here. Very odd, but only really worth hearing if you are a fan of hearing absolutely everything on albums from start to finish. Still, the sounds here are different and interesting, but it’s not a proper song, more like musical experimentalism on this track. Little can be said of its repetitive nature, although the patterns do frequently change in a subtle way as time goes on. The drums are an underrated part of many bands, and this piece indicates why this is so. The drums and musical rests here make for a different listening experience unlike any other. It is still an intense musical listen all the same. It does sound a little unsettling in the second half, and this avant-garde mixture of drumming and percussion sounds rather eerie. Silence then follows for some time, until the drums and weird percussion return. Very odd and probably not really worth hearing, but a great album to listen to nonetheless. It finishes very subtly.
This is a very good Grunge based album with plenty of twists and turns. The only really unnecessary part of this album is the last track, which makes no sense whatsoever being on this album and drags it down a little bit. If you can ignore that about it, then you have a truly great and underrated album to blast and annoy those near you. Great music, and very forward thinking and awesome sounding. Kurt Cobain would have been proud of this, after all, he loved the Melvins. If you love American hard guitar based music stemming back from those early Punk records, this is for you.
Maintaining the rage.
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