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Head-bang and scrawl

The iconic Melvins play Tacoma and Olympia this week

MELVINS: Not even close to pop/ photo copyright 2010 William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC

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When we think of Washington rock legends - if we ignore the Sonics, which you never should - then we tend to think of bands like Green River, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, blah blah blah. Before then, it gets a little hazy. Before then, it was the Melvins.

Hailing from a town called Montesano, Wash., a place that though I've lived in Washington all my life I've never been to (sorry Montesananites! Montesanans? Montasanorians?), the Melvins emerged in the early '80s into the burgeoning Washington rock scene as a startlingly heavy, bizarre outfit.

A move to Aberdeen, the befriending of a young Kurt Cobain: this is Melvins folklore from the prepubescent years. Though they maintained ties to their home state, the Melvins left for California shortly after releasing their first record. Cobain would later die, Green River would split up, Pearl Jam would find themselves on MTV - the Melvins would simply make fucking records. It's been nearly 30 years now, and the Melvins are just as weird and heavy as ever.

The uninitiated may best know the Melvins by their creation of the dubious sub-genre known as sludge-rock. Marked by its definitional sluggishness, sludge-rock favors hard, plodding, perfect-head-banging metal over all else. It's the kind of music where you either commit to the possible whiplash that may result from such emphatic head-banging, or you just don't get it, man.

The Melvins, more than their many imitators, established an antsy desire to never fall into a predictable groove - in career trajectory as well as song structure. Drummer Dale Crover lays down a bed of tricky rhythms, followed by an onslaught of roaring guitar and the strangest sorta scary/sorta funny lyrics. Many of lead singer Buzz Osborne's (aka King Buzzo) songs have a tendency to come across like definitive nerd-porn for young metal-heads who waste class time drawing band logos in their notebooks.

"We kind of made a hybrid of (all the bands we liked)," says Osborne, when asked how the Melvins found their sound. "You gotta do something new with what you have in front of you, you know? Maybe it was that we were drunk. I don't know."

Within the confines of heavy metal, the Melvins manage to find a huge amount of leeway. Look at a song like "Nude with Boots" from the album of the same name, and they could almost pass for the Who, with a slightly proggy edge. Drop back a couple years for a track from (A) Senile Animal, and the band shows its King Crimson hand. Meanwhile, they weren't afraid to dip their toes in the underground alternative sound for The Bootlicker. Exploration is what the Melvins are after, regardless of what path it may lead them down - with one caveat.

"What I'm worried about is making records that I would like as a fan," says Osborne. "That's what I'm trying to do. ... You just have to use your imagination. Maybe I just had more to begin with. Who knows? I'm not sick of it, yet. A lot of people get sick of that stuff. It's not easy work. But so far, so good."

The Melvins don't seem to be showing signs of slowing down. A couple years ago, the Melvins co-curated an All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, displaying their still-enthusiastic appreciation of music old and new. On the phone, Osborne chastised me for saying that the band's last couple albums might have been a little "poppier" than usual.

"I think that calling them pop records may be breaking the limits," said Osborne, with a slight hint of a laugh. "Pop equals popular. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that sounds like us on the radio."

Fair enough, Osborne. Fair enough.

Regardless of how rabid their fan base grows, how far their influence may spread, Melvins music still craves to be found somewhere in a record store by a nerdy young metal-head who has too many empty pages in his spiral notebook.

Scrawl, young man. Head-bang and scrawl.


with Totimoshi
Monday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m., $16 at, $20 door
Hell's Kitchen, 928 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.759.6003

with Totimoshi, Bone Sickness
Wednesday, Sept. 29, 8:30 p.m., $15 Olympia Film Society members, $20 general
Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia, 360.754.6670

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