After a groundbreaking (though commercially lukewarm) trilogy of releases for Mike Patton's Ipecac label last year, the Melvins are back at the forefront of the experimental-metal scene sounding more ominous and more melodic than ever. Gone for the most part is the riff-heavy Sabbath-on-downers grunge tag that dogged them (unjustly) since their inception.
The highly uncharacteristic centerpiece of Electroretard is a hyper-speed cover of the Wipers' seminal 1981 punk anthem "Youth of America." This is raw, heavy rock dabbling in hardcore, not the sludge-heavy riffing synonymous with the Melvins. Clocking in at nine-plus minutes, the careening bash-and-crash associated with the punk-cum-metal power trio dissolves when they turn the rapid-fire three-chord tour-de-force into a methodical sonic monster unheard of in the annals of their noisily complicated musical framework.
With wild-haired guitarist Buzz Osborne at the forefront slicing weird repetitive licks during the long instrumental bridges, Dale Crover ferociously bashes his drum kit into smithereens and bassist Kevin Rutmanis lays down thick slabs of rhythmic firestorm. The breakneck pace makes the usually ponderous Melvins reverberate like Napalm Death jacked up on a truckload of crack.
The ex-Cows bassist pays back his former band by covering "Missing" with his booming four-stringed instrument commanding the spotlight. He transforms the noisy skronk of the original into an experimental pop nugget full of sweetly sick vocals, steady drumming and his infectious bass riff anchoring the whole bloody shebang.
A retooled version of "Gluey Porch Treatments" (originally released in 1987) whizzes by in less than a minute like a really twisted Primus outtake. Closing out the majestic splendor, complete with organ and a mutlitextured electronics wash, is an exhilarating cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive." The Melvins rock out in true space-rock eccentricity unencumbered by the stranglehold of the '90s grunge demons. This compelling, often boldly artistic, sometimes rambling take on the 1967 psychedelic-soaked heavy-metal pop bravado of the original owes more to the magic mushroom guitar freakout of Hawkwind than the cerebral LSD meltdown of the Syd Barrett-anchored incarnation. After 10 minutes of skull-pounding psychotic brainwash you may need to reach for the Valium to help calm your nerves.
The Melvins' recent brand of a somewhat melodic cacophonous insanity has made them happier, more relaxed and balanced at tackling any bodacious racket that comes their way than any time before. This is their best, most unpretentious record since Stag.