WIZARDS OF OZMA: Stewart Voegtlin and Beaver on MELVINS’ heaviest record (from Arthur No. 34)

As originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)

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WIZARDS OF OZMA
What made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built? STEWART VOEGTLIN pays attention to the men behind the curtain…
Illustration by BEAVER

Discussed:

Melvins
Lysol
Boner Records, 1992

Melvins
Gluey Porch Treatments
Alchemy Records, 1989

Melvins
Ozma
Boner Records, 1987

Melvins
Eggnog
Boner Records, 1991

Earth
Extra-Capsular Extraction
Sub Pop, 1990

Melvins
Joe Preston
Boner Records, 1992

Thrones
Alraune
The Communion Label, 1996

Used to fight flu in early 1900s. Used as douche, disinfectant, “birth-control agent.” Toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. But commonly consumed by alcoholics as alternative to more expensive tipple. Taken off grocer’s shelf. Popped open. Sprayed into its cap. Thrown back. Used and reused because—or in spite of—its overpowering carbolic taste worsened with a burn weaponized and wince inducing. And, finally, used, infamously—but not orally—by Buzz Osborne (guitar, vocals), Joe Preston (bass), and Dale Crover (drums) as title of Melvins’ fourth full-length record, Lysol, released in 1992.

Lysol is Melvins’ biggest record. It’s their heaviest. While being “big” and “heavy,” Lysol inadvertently questions what exactly constitutes “big” and “heavy” records. While being intentionally cryptic, Lysol questions what it means for records to be unintentionally accessible, and why a record’s content must posit a “message” that not only means something, but also purports to uncover some semblance of truth. The dialectic is reluctant. That it’s as “big” and “heavy” as the record itself, and actually does threaten to posit a “message” that masquerades as truth, is an unexpected payoff from a record that satisfies as many aesthetic criteria as it eliminates.

Harold Bloom could’ve been talking about Lysol when he praised the completeness and finality of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The book fulfilled Bloom’s idea of the “ultimate western.” All genre criteria were not only satisfied; they were eliminated. Anything published on its heels was not a western at all, but futility in the form of mechanics, ink, paper. Lysol was released in 1992; the two “heaviest” records released that year other than itself are Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer and Eyehategod’s In the Name of Suffering. Their sound is distinct. They work within the confines of their carefully cultivated worlds, and thrive in doing so. Lysol’s sound? Also distinct. Also works within its world. But does so in such manner that the construction that defines its world falls, like a ladder kicked away after its ascendant looks down on what they’ve climbed out of, and becomes not meaningless, but too meaningful.

What Melvins accomplish with Lysol, particularly its 11-minute opener, “Hung Bunny,” is a sort of Heavy Metal as religious music. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t stomping inchoate distillations of “God’s silence,” it’s spreading śūnyatā out as endless horizon. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t indifferent about “theophany,” it’s providing the conditions necessary to understand, or receive, the divine in the first place. Not surprisingly, it’s an attentive record. A concentrated record. A ceremonial record. It’s the most unlikely religious record ever built, as its cover tunes (which account for half of the program) easily constitute the band’s bulletproof belief system, while “Hung Bunny,” recreates Tibetan Buddhism’s ritual music, and stillbirths one of the more unfortunate subgenres, “stoner doom,” without even taking a toke.

It’s a risky hyperbole. (Aren’t they all?) Somewhere in a suburban basement, a kid’s pulling tubes, crushing beers, Lysol spraying through ear-wilting wattage. It may not initially present as enigma, even in the midst of buzz, but it will always require interpretation. How that kid understands Lysol may be no different than how orthodox monks understand the Jesus prayer. In a deceptively simple way, the kid and the monk make sense of their lives through external power, with or without what Richard Rorty calls “an ambition of transcendence.” That we struggle, unprovoked, through these self-imposed puzzles, is what binds us, despite the disparity of aesthetics we are geared towards through fate’s random generation. Ultimately we gravitate towards that which lends our lives meaning—even if meaning is undone in its meaninglessness. Realizing the kid’s and the monk’s “road” to sense is the same path carved out by, and because, of the “big” and the “heavy” is the first step out onto the yellow brick. Continue reading

PRAYER, HOMAGE, EVENT: Stewart Voegtlin and Beaver on Melvins’ “Lysol” era (excerpt from Arthur 34)

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Here’s an excerpt from Stewart Voegtlin‘s epic thinkpiece on Melvins’ Lysol era in the new ish of Arthur. Above is a detail of the giant illustration for the piece by Beaver

…Easiest, quickest way to learn what “big” and “heavy” consist of is to “do it.” Melvins did it. They made big, heavy records, long before Lysol. Future Melvins bass player Mark Deutrom produced their two biggest, heaviest, earliest records: Gluey Porch Treatments (1987) and Ozma (1989). Deutrom’s production, so simplistic it sounds complex, is unobtrusively brilliant, as its hands-free take leaves room ambience and artistic attack alone to their violent courtship. Results are uncommonly common: with 24 tracks for three instruments and vocals, everything sounds as it should—like itself. While “Grunge” reappropriated the more banal aspects of Zeppelin and Sabbath, Melvins strove intentionally (or not) to resist imitation, instead building a band and music unlike everything that revolved around them in Seattle’s “Emerald City.”

How is it that Osborne, Preston, and Crover held Lysol up as prayer, as homage, as event? How is it three musicians escaped predestined life plan as mere accumulation of echoes? How is it they became collective sage paid tribute to by lesser folk in the long march towards mass artistic reproduction? Deutrom certainly helped. Without much embellishment, he “allowed” Melvins to show themselves what they already knew. But when the haze of convenience store zen burned off, Melvins only knew they didn’t.

Whereas other bands consciously manufactured “heaviness,” Melvins’ music was symptomatic of its criteria, even as it masterfully submitted it to erasure within any given song’s parameters. The banal, blues-based music, thickened by overdriven guitars and castle walls of amps, was modified with prankish disregard for its form. Early “single” “Oven,” from Gluey Porch Treatments, is 1:29 of breakdowns, its beginning same as its midsection, its conclusion. Crover’s recycled beat is marching band jive, trucker speed jittered, locking jaws after every breath. Osborne’s chords ring out and then vanish completely, relegated to the stupid static squiggle that sounds when one plugs in. When it all comes together, Osborne paints randomness over Crover’s wind-knocking accents: “Pez are gonna let it slide gonna burn what cotton decides are apelee / My main oven drive he took from under what’s come over me.” “Just like witches at black masses” it ain’t.
Continue reading

NOW: ARTHUR NO. 34

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ARTHUR NO. 34 / APRIL 2013

Oversized broadsheet newspaper
24 15″ x 22.75″ pages (16 color, 8 b/w)
$5

CLICK HERE TO ORDER DIRECT FROM US

Now with 50% more pages, Arthur continues its comeback in the bold new broadsheet newspaper format that’s turning heads and drawing critical acclaim.

In this issue…

After 20-plus years navigating strange, inspiring trips across myriad underground psychedelic terrains with a host of fellow free folk, righteous musician/head MATT VALENTINE (MV & EE, Tower Recordings, etc) finally spills all possible beans in an unprecedented, career-summarizing, ridiculously footnoted epic interview by BYRON COLEY. Plus: Deep archival photo finds from the MV vaults, a sidebar wander through some important MV listening experiences with your guide Dan Ireton, and a gorgeous cover painting by ARIK ROPER of MV & EE at peace in the cosmic wild. Delicious!

Orange County, California psych rockers FEEDING PEOPLE left the church, entered the void, lost band members and returned to our reality to sing their tale in glorious reverb. Chris Ziegler investigates, with photography by Ward Robinson…

Everyone needs someone to love, and AROMATIC APHRODISIACS are here to help that lovin’ along (sans wack pharma side effects). From truffles to borrachero, author-scholars CHRISTIAN RATSCH and CLAUDIA MULLER-EBELING get in on the action. Illustrations by Kira Mardikes…

Gabe Soria chats with novelist AUSTIN GROSSMAN (Soon I Will Be Invincible) about the basic weirdness of playing (and making) VIDEO GAMES, with art by Ron Rege, Jr….

All-new full-color comics by Lale Westvind, Will Sweeney, Vanessa Davis and Jonny Negron…

Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH says yes—but there’s a price. Interview by Jay Babcock…

Stewart Voegtlin on what (or: who) made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built, with art by Stewart’s Chips N Beer mag compatriot Beaver…

“Weedeater” Nance Klehm on BETTER HOME BREWING…

The Center for Tactical Magic on ANARCHO-OCCULTISM…

PLUS! Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s essential underground review column, Bull Tongue, now expanded to two giant pages. Covered in this issue: New York Art Quartet, Don Cauble, Douglas Blazek, Rick Myers, Desmadrados, Century Plants, Richard Aldrich, Robbie Basho, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Michael Zacchilli, Pat Murano, Tom Carter, Les Conversions, Hobo Sunn, Decimus, Saifyya, Jeff Keen, Inspector 22, Yves/Son/Ace, Pink Priest, Smegma, Nouvelle Impressions D’Afrique, K. Johnson Bair, Major Stars, Endless Boogie, David Novick, Joe Carducci, Scam, Erick Lyle, Phantom Horse, Failing Lights, Tomuntonttu, The Lost Domain, George Laughead jr., Xochi, Sublime Frequencies, Barbara Rubin, Red Rippers, Linda King, Cuntz, My Cat Is An Alien, Bird Build Nests Underground, Pestrepeller, Painting Petals on Planet Ghost, Peter Stampfel, Joshua Burkett, Michael Chapman, L’Oie de Cravan Press, Genvieve Desrosiers, The Residents, Dawn McCarthy, Bonnie Prince Billy, Ensemble Pearl, Azita, Woo, Galactic Zoo Dossier, Mad Music INc., White Limo, Excusamwa, Little Black Egg, Dump, Jarrett Kobek, Felix Kubin, The Army, Bruce Russell, and Gate…

And more stuff too hot to divulge online!

Please keep in mind… Arthur is no longer distributed for free anywhere. Those days are (sadly) long gone. Now you gotta buy Arthur or you won’t see it. Our price: Five bucks—not so bad!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER DIRECT FROM US

FEEL FREE TO PRE-ORDER ARTHUR NO. 34 NOW (STREETS MARCH 5, 2013)

A34coversml

ARTHUR NO. 34 / APRIL 2013
Twenty-four 15″ x 22.75″ pages (16 color, 8 b/w)
$5
Streets: March 5, 2013

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRE-ORDER INFO

Now with 50% more pages, Arthur continues its comeback in the bold new broadsheet newspaper format that’s turning heads and drawing critical acclaim.

In this issue…

After 20-plus years navigating strange, inspiring trips across myriad underground psychedelic terrains with a host of fellow free folk, righteous musician/head MATT VALENTINE (MV & EE, Tower Recordings, etc) finally spills all possible beans in an unprecedented, career-summarizing, ridiculously footnoted epic interview by BYRON COLEY. Plus: Deep archival photo finds from the MV vaults, a sidebar wander through some important MV listening experiences with your guide Dan Ireton, and a gorgeous cover painting by ARIK ROPER of MV & EE at peace in the cosmic wild. Delicious!

Also in this issue:

Orange County, California psych rockers FEEDING PEOPLE left the church, entered the void, lost band members and returned to our reality to sing their tale in glorious reverb. Chris Ziegler investigates, with photography by Ward Robinson…

Everyone needs someone to love, and AROMATIC APHRODISIACS are here to help that lovin’ along (sans wack pharma side effects). From truffles to borrachero, author-scholars CHRISTIAN RATSCH and CLAUDIA MULLER-EBELING get in on the action. Illustrations by Kira Mardikes…

Gabe Soria chats with author AUSTIN GROSSMAN (Soon I Will Be Invincible) about the basic weirdness of playing (and making) VIDEO GAMES, with art by Ron Rege, Jr….

All-new full-color comics by Lale Westvind, Will Sweeney, Vanessa Davis and Jonny Negron…

Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH say yes—but there’s a price. Interview by Jay Babcock…

Stewart Voegtlin on what (or: who) made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher “Lysol” the most unlikely religious record ever built, with art by Stewart’s Chips N Beer mag compatriot Beaver…

“Weedeater” Nance Klehm on BETTER HOME BREWING…

The Center for Tactical Magic on ANARCHO-OCCULTISM…

Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s essential underground review column, Bull Tongue, now expanded to two giant pages. Covered in this issue: New York Art Quartet, Don Cauble, Douglas Blazek, Rick Myers, Desmadrados, Century Plants, Richard Aldrich, Robbie Basho, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Michael Zacchilli, Pat Murano, Tom Carter, Les Conversions, Hobo Sunn, Decimus, Saifyya, Jeff Keen, Inspector 22, Yves/Son/Ace, Pink Priest, Smegma, Nouvelle Impressions D’Afrique, K. Johnson Blair, Major Stars, Endless Boogie, David Novick, Joe Carducci, Scam, Erick Lyle, Phantom Horse, Failing Lights, Tomuntonttu, The Lost Domain, George Laughead jr., Xochi, Sublime Frequencies, Barbara Rubin, Red Rippers, Linda King, Cuntz, My Cat Is An Alien, Bird Build Nests Underground, Pestrepeller, Painting Petals on Planet Ghost, Peter Stampfel, Joshua Burkett, Michael Chapman, L’Oie de Cravan Press, Genvieve Desrosiers, The Residents, Dawn McCarthy, Bonnie Prince Billy, Ensemble Pearl, Azita, Woo, Galactic Zoo Dossier, Mad Music INc., White Limo, Excusamwa, Little Black Egg, Dump, Jarrett Kobek, Felix Kubin, The Army, Bruce Russell, and Gate…

And more stuff too hot to divulge online!

Please keep in mind… Arthur is no longer distributed for free anywhere. Those days are (sadly) long gone. Now you gotta buy Arthur or you won’t see it. Our price: Five bucks—not so bad!

North American droners GROWING, profiled by Peter Relic (Arthur, May 2006)

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Happy Mediums
How nature droners Growing found their flow

Text by Peter Relic
Photography by Eden Batki
Layout by W.T. Nelson

originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

If Plato had had the necessary resources back in the day, he would have definitely buffed out his philosopher’s cave with black lights and fog machines. The old Greek dude never got the chance, but in the new millennium, Growing have done it for him, figuratively speaking.

Growing is Joe DeNardo, 26, and Kevin Doria, 27, two gentlemen who met at Evergreen University in Olympia, Washington. DeNardo is originally from the suburbs of Chicago, while Doria grew up in Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda, tucked deep inside Southern California’s Orange County. Together they play a slug-paced, ocean-deep drone music without drums or traditionally recognizable melodies that nonetheless projects a palpable pulse and a sense of pro-biotic harmony. Over three albums, and assorted tapes and EPs, Growing have united the foreboding heaviness of doom metal with the reassuring beauty of placid ambience in songs stretching up to 20 minutes in length. The unlikely arranged marriage actually works. Call it life metal, or nature drone.

“We chose the name Growing because it seemed all-encompassing,” Joe DeNardo says, on the cel phone from the duo’s live-in bunker in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “A lot of people didn’t like it at first because they thought it was a reference to marijuana or boners. Not so. It does seem to describe the process of living and dying without being heavy and ominous. Which is nice.”

For their newest album, The Color Wheel, Doria and DeNardo have expanded the Growing sound to encompass even more: now, discord and rhythm join the Edenic shimmerblasts and underlying thrum of their past work. If Growing is an entity, The Color Wheel is the sound of it in adolescence: the bucolic innocence of childhood mostly lost, replaced by awkwardness, dark intimations of mortality and, of course, new joys. Adolescence is beyond volition—it just happens, whether or not you want it to—and Growing’s growth seems to have happened in the same way: the band’s sound has unfolded in ways its makers didn’t contrive or foresee, yet nonetheless accept.

Speaking with DeNardo and Doria is not unlike listening to Growing: it ain’t gonna work if you’re in a hurry, and the less you pry for insight, the more revelations are likely to come. Then again, these guys are don’t confine the big slowdown to their guitarwork. They do everything slowly, including going though college (Doria: “Took me seven years and I’m not even a doctor!”).

“We’re not very conscious guys,” says DeNardo. “Like, we’re not very aware of ourselves. We just kind of…float. We don’t articulate ourselves all that well. We don’t talk to each other much about this stuff; we don’t line everything up like ‘Okay this is the idea: I’m thinking about the French Alps right now, I spent time in the caves, we can make some music like…’

“We don’t do that. It’s just all kind of melts and flows together.”

* * * * *

Growing was birthed in Olympia, Washington. For two years—or maybe three years, no one’s really sure—DeNardo and Doria lived in a house with Joe Preston, a legendary musician with arguably the heaviest resume in guitar history, one that includes work with early Earth, mid-‘90s Melvins, White1/2-era Sunn0))) and now, High On Fire (which features an ex-member of Sleep), as well as his own one-man noise-drone-riff unit, Thrones.

“For the most part it was really just mellow times,” says Kevin Doria. “We played video games, went to Taco Bell…just hung out for the most part. He never practiced, not once. Okay, I think he did once when no one was around, for like 15 minutes. I guess he just didn’t like the way it sounded in the basement.”
DeNardo and Doria didn’t mind the basement sound.

“Before Growing, we had a little tape thing called 1,000 A.D.,” says Doria. “It started out as Joe [DeNardo] and me fucking around in the basement: a lot more riffage, no drums or anything, just guitars and bass, really long tedious parts that went on for hours. We were simultaneously doing this other band called Black Man White Man Dead Man which, when it started was more hardcore stuff: fast, loud. As time went on, it evolved into slower heavier jams. Finally we realized that having two bands comprised of the same members was really stupid, so whatever, let’s just have one band. The writing didn’t dramatically change as far as the songs were concerned, but everything did get slower. I’m not particularly good at playing fast, or playing parts even—that had something to do with us getting slower—but also, we just kind of got bored playing hardcore. We got older. It was natural.”

Continue reading