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“I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 18, and before that, I was really into sports,” says Roger “Buzz” Osborne, who answers to King Buzzo, overlord of the band Melvins. “And when I stopped, it wasn’t because I stopped liking sports; it was because I couldn’t stand the other people who were involved in those things.”
He doesn’t use the word jocks, and he doesn’t have to, given the origin of the band’s name—shorthand for an unlikeable, dorky outsider. That’s pretty much how Osborne views himself.
Something about the band’s look, he contends, is too scary for public consumption. Maybe it starts with baby-faced Buzzo’s coif that screams Don King-meets-Robert Smith and Carrot Top at an Eraserhead convention. Osborne contends that ugly bands never sell many records, pointing to the eye candy of today’s charts.
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“Tell me, when was that ever not the case?” growls the taciturn, 46-year-old guitarist.
Of course, it isn’t easy to cuddle up to the band’s 26-year career. Melvins have released their last dozen or so records on Ipecac, where Mike Patton (Fantomas, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) provides a pasture the band can run roughshod through. That exclusively twisted, deranged, stoner-punk-metal club, to which the Butthole Surfers and Flipper once belonged, gets new bragging rights with Melvins circa 2010. Osborne, who grew up with those groups, says he loves “good music, no matter who makes it.” He names Swans, Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, Chrome and Foetus as a few of his touchstones.
“Jim [Thirwell, the man behind Foetus] is one of the music heroes of our generation,” Osborne asserts. “People owe him a huge debt, none of which will ever be repaid.”
Osborne isn’t saying Melvins should be owed anything, but even if that were the case, he expects nothing. “I wish our records would sell in the millions, and I think they should. But it’s not up to me. Nothing we’re doing is perverse. I haven’t been trying to not sell records.”
Neither have critics given much back, Osborne laments; those who haven’t plunged into the daunting Melvins back catalog will inevitably compare the band to Black Sabbath.
The outfit’s latest, The Bride Screamed Murder, a sci-fi science-fair project narrated by Osborne’s catastrophic guitar attack and scorched-earth bellow, is the second to feature longtime drummer Dale Crover, as well as the rhythm section from Big Business. That’s right: two drum kits in the studio and onstage.
It sounds gimmicky—a logical expectation for a band that once covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Leif Garrett—but goddamn if it doesn’t work. Unlike Genesis or the Grateful Dead, who toured the same way, Melvins’ double-tracked thunder is an exercise in economy, not excess.
Live, the double-drum onslaught is a force to be reckoned with, giving Melvins access to a new rock power source. On Bride, the drums are panned out in stereo and often swap channels.
That effect kicks off the opener, “The Water Glass,” which bolsters the pounding with thick-fingered, menacing riffs—before devolving into a marching chant (“I don’t know/But I been told”) à la the Bill Murray film Stripes.
“I’ll Finish You Off” makes even better on the double-drum threat, supplemented by Residents-like vocals, some a capella scat and a snippet of “My Generation” to a Casio-toned “My Sharona” riff. One of Osborne’s favorite bands, the Who, probably wouldn’t recognize the plodding, art-sludge take on “My Generation,” which resurfaces as the album’s penultimate offering.
But occasionally, this year’s Melvins are as refreshingly abrasive as a steel-wool backrub. “Evil New War God” and the blistering “Inhumanity and Death” punish as severely as anything from the band’s (or, say, Ministry’s) glory days.
Osborne, somewhat prickly and brusque, is offended when “people misunderstand what we’re doing. But if I let things like that bother me, I’d have quit doing this a long time ago.”
Instead, if he worries about anything, Osborne says, “it’s about being a productive, law-abiding upstanding citizen. I live a very conservative life—any wildness comes out in the music.”
And if he finds himself worrying too much, Osborne still turns to sports for solace. He loves watching baseball games—both from the stands and at his Hollywood home.
But he won’t watch football or basketball, as he can’t stand time being a factor. “The clock drives me crazy,” he explains. “If you can just run the clock out, then that’s not my kind of sporting event.”