Grunge may have died with Kurt Cobain, but miraculously, the Melvins, one of the genre’s fundamental influences, are still alive and making records. Hostile Ambient Takeover, the Melvins’ 18th effort in their 18 years as a band, is a rejuvenating collection of loud rock with a penchant for chaos.
The vicious guitar and snarling vocals of lead singer King Buzzo wrap around the angry rhythms of drummer Dale Crover to create a symphony of energy and noise. Four of the album’s eight tracks are over six minutes long, resulting in an assortment of complex and multi-faceted movements of disorder that fall somewhere between punk and metal with spurts of noise rock.
The opening track, “Black Stooges,” begins with a 30-second rush of drums that culminates in a climactic collision with a noisy burst of guitars, as if to declare that the album has officially begun. It is followed by a speedy two and a half minute punk song, “Dr. Geek,” with uncharacteristically melodic vocals on the part of King Buzzo. In addition to serving as a foothold within the realm of pop music, “Dr. Geek” gives listeners a glimpse of the band’s punk rock side. Then the album switches gears.
“Little Judas Chongo,” is a two-minute metal song that allows a hint of sonic turmoil to seep through, and leads the album into the beautiful turbulence in which it eventually becomes enveloped.
Combining the group’s ranging styles, “The Fool, the Meddling Idiot,” is a seven-minute collage of the Melvins’ capabilities as a band. It begins with a tumultuous blend of electric guitars, which fade into a tense, bass-driven melody, before building into a slow, sinister groove. This ends in a pregnant pause that leaves listeners anticipating a hard rock explosion. Instead, the silence is broken by a smooth keyboard melody that sneaks up on jaded fans.
The 15-minute “The Anti-Vermin Seed” quietly closes the album, as the Melvins communicate their agitation with only a sparing use of the boisterous sound that fills the rest of the album. It has an artful anxiety to it that goes beyond the raging guitars that define much of the Melvins’ music.
The band’s label, Ipecac Records, is in part responsible for the successful outcome of this album. Ipecac was founded in 1999, and has since adhered to its ambitious and commendable mission statement of being an artist-friendly label. In addition to releasing several intriguing and eclectic “super group” albums by artists such as Fantomas and Tomahawk (both of whom feature members of the Melvins), Ipecac released a compilation of songs by students in a special education music class in a Los Angeles high school. Label founder Mike Patton, formerly of Faith No More, and currently a member of Fantomas and Tomahawk, is one of the more innovative figures in popular music today, and music fans should find current and future releases by Ipecac to be truly unique, to say the least.