Working With God

Melvins return with their 24th full-length studio album and they still don't give a damn what you think about it, finds Tom Coles

The Melvins have stretched belligerence into a fine art and then some over their many active years. From formless, jagged noise rock to Dadaist sludge metal, the one uniting theme through their career is a will to transgress, to bemuse, and to sow confusion. On a good day it’s hard to tell signal from noise – and there’s a lot of noise here, on their twenty-fourth record.

With the re-addition of Mike Dillard, they’re back to their 1983 lineup, last visited on 2013’s Tres Cabrones. With this, Working with God carries the air of a heady reunion. It careers from familiar, high-energy, hooky sludge rock to little snippets of in-jokes, and then back again. These ideas are occasionally extended over multiple tracks, as in the case of ‘Brian The Horse-Faced Goon’, which – bewilderingly – is a story that requires two parts to be realised.

This has an alienating effect, like finding a close friend on better terms with a new pal or old lover, recanting an in-joke you weren’t privy to. This does make a little sense: after all, their career has been defined by pig-headed refusal to make music that appeals to anyone other than themselves and doing bewilderingly well out of it. This sort of standoffishness seems in keeping with their general tone.

These little vignettes, blissfully, don’t ruin the pace of the record too much, unlike some of the noise dalliances on classics like Houdini, where the ten-minute deconstructed drum solos did somewhat clash with the rapid sludge bangers. Working with God has the safety net of clocking in at a shade over half an hour, meaning the weirdness doesn’t quite outstay its welcome, and has the momentum to allow more than a few sparks of nonsense. Plus, longtime fans are likely to allow them some moments of self- indulgence; it’s not like we haven’t been here before.

Tempting though it is to write this off as a lazy entry, it’s more that it is unedited and unfiltered. The heavy sections seem thrown-together, a little more so than usual. But rather than sounding phoned-in, Melvins make this louche lack of effort seem joyous and energetic, and though it can indeed feel uncomfortable, there is a sense that that’s what they want. They were making in-jokes for themselves, and the fun sludge bits were just by-products.

Nonetheless, this record works, and those who vibe with the arrogance and the spikiness of Buzz and co. will warm to being joshed a little. Indeed, some of it seems deliberately geared to wind up people trying to earnestly review a Melvins record. They wouldn’t do that, would they?

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