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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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


Boner Records, 1992

Gluey Porch Treatments
Alchemy Records, 1989

Boner Records, 1987

Boner Records, 1991

Extra-Capsular Extraction
Sub Pop, 1990

Joe Preston
Boner Records, 1992

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.
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