A musician friend of mine who shall remain unnamed told me there was a moment on Pigs of the Roman Empire, the latest full-length slab from Ipecac darlings Melvins, that would, to paraphrase, make me soil a perfectly good pair of trousers. The moment, to be sure, is all that and then some — a wall of Horror House white noise that closes the airy intro “III” by bleeding right into the first few notes Dale Crover carves into his drum kit on the slithering and venomous “The Bloated Pope.” That moment’s also a fitting summary for the entire eight-track disc, which matches the pummeling refrains of Melvins with the ambient electronica of Lustmord. The beautifully titled Pigs of the Roman Empire isn’t so much a pairing of like-minded musicians or a document of interwoven experimental narratives. It’s a war fought on two fronts — a series of mostly separate offerings from the scene-setting and the scene-stealing — and its finest moments seem to fall in the points where these sentiments briefly intersect.
While the Melvins line-up of Buzzo, Crover, and “Rutmanis” seem to be refining, sharpening, and developing their attack with every successive release, the band’s contribution to Pigs of the Roman Empire seems to call to mind less the biting refrains of 2002’s Hostile Ambient Takeover than the long-form experiments of 2001’s Colossus of Destiny and (maybe less so) 1992’s Lysol. The Melvins of those records seemed, for the most part, less restricted by borders and more willing to expand themes and repetitions well beyond their seemingly logical conclusions. That approach is no clearer here than on the epic, nearly 23-minute title track, where Lustmord places warped/replicated “found sounds,” sci-fi interjections, and buried pitch-drones all over the cut-and-paste rock/metal palette Melvins provide as a foundation. The result can be riveting. Take the tinny Crover backbeat that snakes its way through a surface of noise and bass fuzz 12 minutes in, or the gradual build and eruption of classic Melvins guitar, bass, and drums near the 15-minute mark. But, if Lustmord’s threading these pieces together, he’s doing it with fishing line instead of rope because it’s tough to see.
Elsewhere, the record succeeds under less ambitious (and decidedly less epic) parameters. “The Bloated Pope” is a brutal son-of-a-bitch in the Melvins’ tradition of tracks like “Mombius Hibachi,” “Honey Bucket,” and “Hog Leg.” The unusually trippy jams of “Toadi Acceleratio” betray Lustmord’s debt to acts like Matmos, as well as the presence of increasingly frequent contributor Adam Jones, who lends some of Tool’s prog-rock leanings to the proceedings. Lustmord shows some interesting production chops on “Pink Bat” and “Safety Third,” keeping electronic asides to a minimum but recording the band like they were providing the backdrop to a slaughterhouse.
The record’s remaining tracks, sadly enough, provide little to match the punch of these offerings. The short “ZZZZ Best,” clocking in under two minutes, is airy but mostly empty noodling; the disc-closing “Idolatrous Apostate,” which feels like one of those largely space-filling noise/ambient tracks on Tool’s Aenima, lurches to a stop a couple of minutes in, falls dead silent for another minute or so, and then provides as denouement the breezy but vacuous cheer of 1950s-tinged retail shop Muzak (complete with subtle turntable scratches). This is hardly the first time The Melvins have invited this response (just buy Prick) but, “Huh?”
All in all, the disc’s a good one, not one of the Melvins’ finest but, between incredibly intense live performances and a stream of recent releases, the band’s increasingly putting the bar for itself pretty damned high off the ground. Even the misses on Pigs of the Roman Empire hit with a lot more punch and precision that lesser acts could muster.
And the hits? Well, as per usual, they hit hard.