For more than 30 years, the Melvins have been tirelessly producing albums and touring the world. For most casual fans of the group, there’s a trademark Melvins sound. Buzz Osborne‘s loud and crushing guitars and Dale Crover‘s behemoth drum beats have attached the band to such labels as “grunge,” “sludge,” and most recently “doom metal.” Truth be told, you can always count on them to deliver something that falls within or between those categories with every release. That said, if there’s anything predictable about the band over the last 10 years, it’s their unpredictability. They’ve toyed with their signature sound fairly consistently, be it with the dual-drummer attack that saw them team with the guys in Big Business or the slightly mellow-er Melvins Lite that saw them bring in Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantomas) to play standup bass. This latest release shows that the band is still interested in subverting expectations and experimenting with their sound.

A Walk with Love and Death is the 25th (including their collaborations with Lustmord and two albums with Jello Biafra) studio album in the band’s discography and has the distinction of being their first double-LP. The first disc, Death is billed as a “straightforward” Melvins album. The second disc, Love serves as the soundtrack to a short film by director Jesse Nieminen, also titled A Walk with Love and Death.

Death opens with two very different Melvins songs, “Black Heath” and “Sober-delic.” Absent are the fuzzed-out guitars and huge riffs and in their place we find the band playing clean with slow-burning songs that offer a different sonic approach than what most people would identify the with band. The guitars are more intricate, almost delicate at times, and the verse-chorus-verse song structure is completely ignored in favor of building up tension with their instruments. When “Euthanasia” (a song that first appeared on a 1990 7″ compilation) hits, the more familiar Melvins sound arrives. A hulking, muscular tune, “Euthanasia” contains all the classic Melvins pieces you’ve come to know and love.

Steven McDonald, of the punk band Redd Kross, makes his first full-album contributions to his recent tenure with the band. He appeared on a few tracks from last years’ Basses Loaded, but truly has his fingerprints all over Death. “What’s Wrong with You” sounds like the Melvins doing a Redd Kross song with McDonald on lead vocals. It’s melodic and catchy and surely destined to be a staple in the live set for their upcoming 12-week tour. McDonald’s vocals also stand out in harmony with Osborne’s on tracks like “Edgar the Elephant” and “Flaming Creature.” These two songs, along with “Christ Hammer,” are among the best on the album. Leaning more toward the typical Melvins sound, these tracks don’t sound like the basic ingredients put together to fulfil an obligatory need to be “the Melvins.” These songs sound fresh and inspired and they simply rock the fuck out. Le Butcherette‘s vocalist Teri Gender Bender (who also collaborated with the band earlier this year on the Crystal Fairy release) adds backing vocals to the raging “Cactus Party,” the PixiesJoey Santiago is credited with extra guitars, and That Dog‘s Anna Waronker makes an appearance on “What’s Wrong with You.” From top to bottom, Death is a great addition to the band’s staggering discography.

The second disc, Love (the soundtrack album), doesn’t offer much to write home about. It’s less instrumental song compositions and more a pastiche of sounds and voices that don’t really go anywhere. Perhaps the film, when it’s released, will shed some light on this material. Otherwise, it comes off as studio tinkering with noises and samples. There are no real songs, melodies, or even music for that matter. Across 14 tracks it’s difficult to find anything remarkable.

It’s hard to really call this a double-album. In terms of the amount of material it qualifies, but in terms of actual songs and an underlying theme it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Nevertheless, the Death disc is nine songs of solid Melvins songs that will please any of their longtime fans and even entice new listeners with both its diversity and strength of material. The Love disc is a bit boring. There’s probably someone out there who will find it satisfying, but nothing really stands out as worth revisiting. Consequently, it affects the overall rating given here.

A Walk with Love and Death Track Listing:
Death (Disc 1)
01. Black Heath
02. Sober-dellic
03. Euthanasia
04. Whats Wrong with You?
05. Edgar the Elephant
06. Flaming Creature
07. Christ Hammer
08. Cactus Party
09. Cardboa Negro

Love (Disc 2)
01. Aim High
02. Queen Powder Party
03. Street Level St. Paul
04. The Hidden Joice
05. Give It To Me
06. Chicken Butt
07. Eat Yourself Out
08. Scooba
09. Halfway to Bakersfield Mall
10. Pacoima Normal
11. Park Head
12. T Burg
13. Trackstar
14. The Asshole Bastard

Run Time: 81:00
Release Date: July 7, 2017

Check out the trippy A Walk with Love and Death album trailer video