Melvins – Bullhead
Released May 3rd, 1991 on Boner Records
Produced by Jonathan Burnside
Like a lot of bands of their era, Melvins had their start in small town Washington but by 1991 they had decamped to San Francisco to try to broaden and develop their sound. This era culminated in Bullhead, a glacial album that takes the dark promises of early Black Sabbath and drills down on them to create a suffocating heaviness. It was so heavy that experimental Japanese noise rock band Boris took their name from the pummeling lead-off track here.
It was a leap forward in the band’s evolution at the time. Their early work is characterized largely by short song-sketches and eerie noise passages. The songs on Bullhead are much longer and more cohesively sludge-metal; there are a few experimentations here and there (as on the whisper-screamed “If I Had An Exorcism”) but it is for the most part heavy riff after heavy riff, interspersed with Buzz Osborne’s wailing vocals. The gooey bass on the album is provided by Shirley Temple’s daughter Lori Black, who departed after this album.
It is impossible to talk about this era of the Melvins without mentioning their former roadie, of course. As the Melvins were putting this together they were deep in the underground. Their former roadie had formed his own band and had already scored a buzz-worthy album on Sub Pop with Bleach. Four months later his band would drop Nevermind, an album whose widespread global success would lead directly to Buzz and Co. getting a major label deal. Of course, Kurt Cobain managed to nick a couple of riffs for his own use. Most of “It’s Shoved” is probably better known as “Milk It” from 1993’s In Utero. The opening riff in “Zodiac” was repurposed for “Negative Creep” as well. What would the Melvins get out of this little partnership? Major label money – such as it was – for three (admittedly classic although clearly uncommercial) records and then unceremoniously dumped back into the indie labels. They were famously poster children for the boomerang band phenomenon of the latter Nineties, although their career has been better placed than most of the bands picked up in the wake of the Alternative Revolution. Having gotten in good with both Mike Patton and Jello Biafra, the Melvins have been able to sustain a prolific and pretty artistically decent recording life after major label status. At least they still got something out of being dumped for a bunch of ska bands and Buzzcocks rip-offs. Regardless of the history, though, Bullhead is a highlight of their discography, a black hole of a record that eats light.