Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26: Melvins, "Hooch"

Artist: Melvins
Song: "Hooch"
Album: Houdini
Year: 1993

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Though many bands can easily rattle off a list of groups by whom they were influenced, one can make the case that in most of these situations, there is an understanding of the first band that is still "missing" from the follower.  While the music may bear a resemblance, it is often the intangible elements that are overlooked, and it is due to this that seemingly distant acts can cite the same core influence.  This is especially true with the pioneering acts of the late 1960's and early 1970's, and one would be hard pressed to find any group that plays "louder" rock music that does not credit Black Sabbath.  However, in nearly every case, aside from perhaps some of the dark imagery, or the volume with which they play, this credit seems to be little more than name dropping at best.  Then of course, there is the case of sludge-metal masters, the Melvins.  Not only capturing the sound and spirit of Black Sabbath, but stripping it to its core and tossing away some of the more theatrical aspects, there are few bands in history that have found the balance of power, volume, and sheer talent that one can experience throughout the catalog of the Melvins, and there may be no better a collection of their genius than one can find on their 1993 release, Houdini.  Filled with pummeling riffs and the driving, aggressive vocals that set them so far apart from their peers, there are few songs that better define Melvins as a band than the albums' lead track, 1993's, "Hooch."

When it comes to "wasting no time," few have achieved to the level that is found on "Hooch," as the opening gives no warning, kicking off with a staggering drum beat from Dale Crover.  As he fleshes out the sound, it is his playing that gives "Hooch" much of its imposing, intimidating feel, as one can almost sense his playing as stalking around the song, hunting the listener.  It is the way in which he shows restraint, highlighting the bands' ability to have impact within a slower, almost lulling approach, and there has rarely been as perfect an example of the power of emotion and style over speed.  Though the bass is credited to Lori Black, in recent years it has been stated (and not refuted) that the basslines on the album were in fact played by either Crover or Roger "Buzz" Osborne, and this may be the reason that they are so in sync with the drumming.  The combined rhythm section is beyond imposing, and one can easily hear how this influenced bands ranging from Nirvana to White Zombie.  Osborne handles all of the lead guitar work throughout the album, and he manages to match the intensity and tone of the drumming, pushing "Hooch" into a territory that does not quite fit into any category.  The trudging, robust sound of his guitar is certainly akin to heavy metal, and yet there is something deeper, more raw and primal that makes "Hooch" the brilliant sonic masterpiece that it remains to this day.

Along with his superb and punishing performance on guitar, Osborne brings a similar talent and style to the vocals on "Hooch."  In many ways, his singing throughout the history of Melvins set the standard for the heavy metal and sludge-metal vocal, and yet few can be seen as equals once one experiences the sound of Osborne's voice.  There is an ever-present venom within his voice, and yet Osborne also delivers the lyrics with more purpose, and more importantly, clarity than any of his peers or followers.  Bringing an emphasis on certain words, there is an almost poetic rhythm to his vocals, and this idea is pushed further when one steps back and inspects the seemingly absurdest words to "Hooch."  However, when one digs deeper, great tragedy and harsh reality can be found within Osborne's words, as one can easily interpret the song as the tale of plight of a drug dealer.  Regardless of what drug he may be moving, this locks in perfectly with the songs' title, and at the same time, it does not seem as if Osborne is passing judgment either way on his protagonist.  As the song continues, one can deduce that the main character is trying to get out of said lifestyle, but meets a tragic end when he goes for "one last deal."  This ironic twist and dirty, almost underground tale fits perfectly with Osborne's delivery style, and even if one cannot fully understand his words, the way in which he speaks conveys emotions that perfect the music over which he sings.

Though most are completely unaware, there are some additional percussive pieces played throughout "Hooch," and legend has it that they were provided by one of the biggest Melvins fans, the albums' producer, Kurt Cobain.  Once one understands the sheer reverence that Cobain had for the band, their influence on his own music becomes abundantly clear, and it is in this fact where one can also argue how essential the Melvins were in the development of the so-called "grunge" sound.  From Alice In Chains to L7 to Dozer, one can hear how the band was able to take the imposing sounds of Black Sabbath and transition them into a more modern, almost heavier sound.  Throughout the bands' entire catalog, Melvins make a clear point to keep things slower than "standard" heavy metal, and many of their songs can almost wear out a listener with just how heavy and punishing the musical arrangements become.  Though they have shifted their lineup a handful of times, the core of Osbrone and Crover have been in place for almost their entire existence, and they have proven that regardless of those with whom they surrounded themselves, it was their dual sound that defined the band.  Staying far away from the sometimes laughable lyrics that taint so many "heavy" songs, Melvins take a far more serious and destructive aim, and there are virtually no other songs in history that can hold their own when compared to their sludgy 1993 tour de force, "Hooch."

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