Review Summary: The sludge masters bring their 1993 release Houdini to a more mainstream audience but still manage to keep their signature sound even after a bit of toning down.
A major label can sometimes be a big advantage but can give a band some disadvantages. On the one hand, bands get more exposure and a lot more money but on the other, you have more pressure to make the money and a lot less artistic freedom so when legendary sludge metal band The Melvins were asked about joining Atlantic records they said they just liked having a bit more money. That’s understandable but what’s the difference between Houdini and any other album they’ve done? Well this album is a bit more toned down but still contains that signature sound that the Melvins are popular for. It opts to a more grunge sound, it’s probably one of the heaviest “grunge” records.
The Melvins are amazing musicians and they really do show it off even if the album isn’t polluted with technical wank. Buzz Osbourne’s guitar sound is so deep and heavy and the fact that the guitars are tuned to about C or B helps quite a bit. Dale Crover is a miraculous drummer. He’s plays with such power and force and he also gets a lot of chances to show off his fast fills but even when he isn’t going for it, he still keeps the back bone of the Melvins line-up. Same goes for Lori Black, her bass skills are not complicated and are mainly chunky root notes but with it, the music wouldn’t seem as powerful or aggressive. Did I say aggressive? On first look it might not be that case but a dive into the album more explains my point. The aggression is mostly shown in fan favorite “Honey Bucket”. A song designed to make the adrenaline flow, this is not the Melvins messing about and it is definitely not their typical sludge sound.. The track is a heavy punk rock fury number boosted by Buzz’s belligerent guitar textures and Dale’s solid drumming throughout. When listening to the album on first listen, this song is probably the one to hook people in.
The Melvins’ ability to combine punk rock with that distinctive Black Sabbath sludge sound makes Houdini a winner in a lot of places but the fact that a lot of songs may seem plain or too pretentious brings a person’s opinion down quite a bit. People need to see that The Melvins aren’t an instantly accessible band and while Houdini is one of their most mainstream albums, the songs may seem too dissonant or peculiar for a lot of populace. This is the only part where the album shows a flaw, on the other side of the road this particular collection of songs is definitely solid. “Hooch” is a song that screams opener but it really is a wonderful little tune. Not to mention the awesome drum intro and the fact Buzzo pulls no stops, his performance is pretty amazing. “Lizzy” is a different song to the rest of the album (or the Melvins discography in fact). The verses’ guitar parts are obviously country influenced while the chorus brings out that emblematic sound the album shows throughout. Album favorite hands-down is the Kiss cover (yes, you read that correct). King Buzzo and his companions turn the only decent Kiss song into a big pile of stinking sludge (not meant in a negative light but you see where I’m getting at). Houdini is a solid album from start to finish though with a few average tracks and the annoying experimental bits. Though not accessible, it is unquestionably accessible by the Melvins standards and something that grunge and non-extreme metal fans would enjoy.