, the Japanese drone
band, takes their name from the first song off Melvins
' album Bullhead
. I'd heard about five or six
before giving Melvins a chance. If my favourite band was influenced enough to choose their name based on a song title, I owe it to myself to investigate these musical roots, not to mention the roots of most every hard rock, grunge
, and sludge
band since 1987
. The Melvins are legends to be sure, and just odd enough to escape the grasp of mainstream appreciation, which allows them to stay weird. Maybe it's Buzzo's hair
So I checked them out, naturally starting with Bullhead. For all I knew this could be the only album that Atsuo, Takeshi, and Wata have ever heard, however unlikely that is. I turned it on and was instantly entranced as my skull caved in, crushed by a sludgehammer. All I could feel was my inner organs one by one turning to hot tar and pooling on the ground, leaking into the Earth and being collected in a clay pot to fuel some infernal growling engine in the core. That's Bullhead for you. The very first track is slow but gives the sense of extreme, dangerous power, like staring down a derailed train sliding through mud towards you. It's grinding to a halt, sure, but that thing still has heft. Hearing Bullhead is riding the cowcatcher of this train, feeling the constant vibrations of angry tearing metal in labour riddle your spine and burst from your head. All this and I was only thirty seconds in.
1. Boris (8:34)
2. Anaconda (2:23)
3. Ligature (3:49)
4. It's Shoved (2:35)
5. Zodiac (4:14)
6. If I Had an Exorcism (3:07)
7. Your Blessened (5:39)
8. Cow (4:31)
consists of a riff built mostly on a single, plodding note (looking it up, it appears to be an exceptionally heavy and low A#), over and over, sweating staticky distortion and drilling itself into your ears. There is a lot of string bending, giving the impression that the guitar has been tuned so low that the instrument cannot reliably perform under such duress. Perfect for headbanging (60 BPM doom metal variant), Boris establishes the mood sufficiently by flattening you before bringing in the vocals at one-n'-a-half minutes in. The lyrics are about some guy named Boris who sounds mean, menacing, and misunderstood, and are delivered at first by angry proclamation and later by slurred, wavering whispers. The song becomes subdued for a while before ending in mid-bar, which is a bit jarring. Bullhead opens strong and crawls forward, unstoppable, before petering into a dull throb and cutting off, and then abruptly swelling up again in the next track.
Anaconda isn't a particularly exciting or important track, but manages to be much quicker than Boris while somehow droning on better. Each note on Boris has punch, while Anaconda features a chord progression that seems to melt together into a stream of noise. This style could be considered proto-drone (The genre-defining Earth 2, by Earth, came out two years later), and is especially well-explored in tracks one, two, three, and seven.
Ligature sounds a bit like a combination of Anaconda and Boris. It's repetitive droning guitar with stomping bass and drums. The final minute is one repeating chord played over a neat little drum bit. If you are into real drone, this is going to seem almost as dynamic as the Beatles, and is a decent finish to a decent song. The album almost started to get dull here, and perhaps acknowledging this, it aims to make things a little groovier once this song ends.
It's Shoved is a standout, in my opinion. It starts out with the drums laying out the foundation, and then out of nowhere a gnarling, writhing bassline crawls up your nose and loops out your mouth like a banana slug. It's Shoved is Bullhead's Sky Pup. The bass owns this song all the way to the end, even when the guitar joins it at a chugging jog. It's over quickly, but it snaps you to attention, and the album suddenly seems electric. This energy continues flowing well into the next song.
Zodiac has a pretty strange main riff. Playing at nearly an octave higher than the first couple songs, a rapidly repeating chord bangs away and ends with a single squeal, and then plays over and over before going back into a Ligature-like style, though still at the quicker pace. Bullhead is one of those albums that has a readily-identifiable sound, something that necessarily comes from good track organization as well as a unique style. It may be that no truly great album can lack either of these traits. Next up is a very "Melvinsey" piece. I say that because the Melvins are fairly well known for having a strange sense of humour when it comes to music. There can be no Melvins impersonators; no one comes close.
If I Had An Exorcism. For the first thirty seconds we are subjected to Buzzo whining incomprehensibly about something while impatient drums punctuate his schizophrenic rambling. Then there's a short guitar section ending with a wailing note that pulses and repeats for a few minutes, and a sneaky bassline eventually snatches the reins away and rides around before driving the song safely into the ground.
Your Blessened: the possibly-misspelled highlight of Bullhead's latter half. It starts with scattered drums before going into into the now-established "Bullhead sound:" quavering guitars going from ultra-low to classic rock whining midrange, superfluous cymbals, and for a stretch in the middle, some full-bodied feedback undulating to slow and steady drumming. Arguably the album's best song, your Blessened doesn't reach the eight minutes of Boris but within less than six it manages to start out sparse, become reasonably rowdy, descend into some dark amplifier worship, and swing into a finale without feeling rushed or overambitious.
Cow closes the album. It's appropriately weak; about now you'll want to be nursing the burst organs/shattered bones from listening to the rest. There's a decent groove present, and then halfway through all guitar, bass, and amps disappear, leaving Crover to close with a drum solo (like in other albums). After thirty minutes of hearing the tortured overdriven droning that is very likely responsible for Absolutego, Black One, and Earth 2, some simple drumming is the perfect way to nail shut this box of deranged malcontent.
Bullhead's lyrics, like many of the Melvins' releases, feature an extensive list of made-up words. If you're trying to learn them by ear but just can't figure a certain word out, look it up to make sure it exists first. It's the tone of voice that carries any importance in this case. You may be given enough of a sentence to get an idea of what is going on, and then a couple of nonsense words to make you feel lost again. Listen to Buzz's tone touch on uncertainty, disgust, envy, paranoia, and crude satisfaction. That's all you need to understand about Bullhead. This is an album about people who are unhappy, and who are angry about it. The Melvins parade these people in front of you like a sideshow, and then crush you beneath a smooth grey slab when you've seen enough.
The Melvins - Bullhead - 1991 - Boner Records