A list of bands decisively influenced by Washington’s the Melvins would begin with Nirvana and Soundgarden and go on to include close to every currently operative metal act worth listening to. Twenty albums deep into their career, a game-changer from the Melvins would be unnecessary (their status as underground icons is incontestable) and also unexpected. King Buzzo and company seem aware of that fact, as The Bride Screamed Murder is more or less interchangeable with 2008’s Nude with Boots both in terms of its sound and its level of quality. It’s the type of album that the phrase “delivers the goods” was meant for, since it dutifully cycles through every one of the band’s calling cards: searing melodic guitar leads on “Electric Flower,” murky ambiance on “P.G. x3,” and roiling sludge metal on “Hospital Up.” It’s hard-hitting and slow-moving rock, and held together by Dale Crover’s free-jazz drumming and the layers of gang vocals which move from a campy sing-along on “The Water Glass” (“We rock, we rock, we rock, rocksteady!/We roll, we roll, we roll, we read!” the four members chant in call-and-response fashion) to military barking on “Inhumanity and Death.”
It’s hard to be impressed by The Bride Screamed Murder, if only because it sticks so closely to the Melvins’s routine, but jadedness aside, it’s song-for-song as good as anything they’ve done in the last decade. With the exception of a dirgy rendition of “My Generation,” a good candidate for the most overdone cover in rock history, the material here hits its mark with unerring accuracy, though largely because the band is taking the same shots they’ve always taken. All of the true highlights (“P.G. x3,” “Water Glass,” “Pig House”) are as familiar-sounding as they are excellent, which means that, as a whole, the album is a welcome, if inessential, addition to the band’s discography. If you’ve never heard the Melvins before, you might actually fall in love with this record, and while longtime fans will certainly enjoy it, it’s hard to see it displacing any of the old favorites.
This invites a slightly heretical rethinking of the Melvins’s mythology: Might it be the case that this band has always gotten by on the strength of their adventurous, appealingly intense sound, and were just never that skilled as songwriters? It’s an argument bolstered by the greater heights of commercial and artistic success reached by their disciples (not just Nirvana, but also Mastodon, Torche, Nuerosis, Tool, and Boris), all of whom marshal a variation on the sludgy, atmospheric sound to serve much sharper pop-rock instincts. That signature sound is very much intact on The Bride Screamed Murder, which, nestled between 2009’s collaborative, beat-based Chicken Switch and whatever the band does next, will hopefully come to sound like a minor retrenchment to bide time between more exciting expeditions.