Live at Stylus, Leeds 3rd June 2023
Steven Shane McDonald shimmies round the stage to A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’, doing high kicks and wiggles. It’s a joyful prelude to an hour of the heaviest music known to humankind. Heavier even than previous times I’ve seen the band. There are bands that play dark, loud, extended pieces but I’m struggling to think of anything more relentlessly crushingly loud and packed with momentum.
There’s scarcely a pause as songs drift into each other, punctuated by extra drum rambles or guitar squeezing, allowing only a moment’s breath before the next wave of heavy sound. Torsos shake, heads rock and a polite mosh-pit (“oh, sorry”) sets up. Songs are drawn from across their career but, even though I jumped on board with The Maggot, twenty years ago, I’ve considered the band as mostly a live proposition, where, rather than pay attention to songs, I can drown in riffs and volume – and this gig is phenomenally loud.
Songs switch from sludge to frantic to intense and back, with an emphasis on the chugging heavy sludge metal with lots of simple solos in an almost non-stop collage. Buzzo scowls and wheels around, resplendent in his psychedelic robe (though I did see him smile once). A beautiful perspex guitar with a metal head was thoroughly hammered, while, behind him, Endora from Bewitched cast a motherly spell. Resplendent all in red with a red bass, McDonald jumped, posed and grinned – a very happy man, at odds with the music. Dale Crover, a member of the band for a mere thirty-nine years, against Buzz Osbourne’s forty years, pounds anonymously, racoon-like with black strips below his eyes to keep the light off.
This is the band’s fortieth anniversary tour, celebrating a band hailed as influences but always remaining on the sidelines of commercial success. Shifting rapidly from hardcore punk to inventing a sludgier, heavier sound than other bands they found a unique place that suited them. With a surprising playful edge, they’ve been acoustic, experimental, a cover band and seem open to ideas, which helps when you’re on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records. Tonight, though, we celebrate the unrelenting wall of sound.
An hour passes way too quick (though how much volume like this can my ears take?) and the band leaves briefly. Stunned into silence (and the fact that the Melvins rarely do encores), the band reappear before the audience regains its wits. An ultra-heavy ‘Boris’ follows, before Dale and Steven slope off, leaving King Buzzo to play us off solo, kicking up a howling wall of sound with just his guitar and voice.
An ancient review from 2000: