No, it’s not the best Melvins album. There are things they could have stood to reduce or eliminate: the last two minutes of “Safety Third” are unnecessary, and “Toadi Acceleratio” is only alright. The whole album, however, is an encouraging reminder that when metal guys get old and begin to branch out, they can do some cool stuff.
Besides, it’s not like Melvins fans can complain about them being inconsistent.
Kevin Rutmanis, ex-bassist for the Cows, took the Melvins’ perennially temp bass job for a short but productive period in the early 2000’s. The group embarked upon a string of cooperative efforts in the Rutmanis period: Fantomas’ Millennium Monsterwork, two albums with Jello Biafra (Never Breathe What You Can’t See and Sieg Howdy!) and, of course, their collaborative album The Crybaby, part of a three-CD “trilogy” with The Maggot and The Bootlicker. (They also turned a dozen “producers” loose on their old songs for a remix album which we do not discuss in polite company.) Perhaps it was their involvement with the Ipecac and AmRep record labels that prompted them to cross-pollinate so, but whatever the cause they applied that same ethos to their 2004 record.
Pigs of the Roman Empire is still very different from those other team projects, though. For one thing, the Melvins made it with a total nobody — ambient-music auteur Lustmord, who had apparently scored some movies that Buzz Osborne liked — and the two artists actually developed and recorded entire songs separately, where either the Melvins would make a backing track to be adorned with electronic bleeps or Lustmord would send them a noise bit to write riffs around. The only track for which they were in the same room is the titanic “Pigs of the Roman Empire”, a twenty-three-minute centerpiece which alternates between lowercase noise and molten Swans-style jams.
Even if it’s cool, though, that behemoth track still isn’t the best on the record. For that go to “Pink Bat”, which begins with Japanese-style white noise and quickly segues into five blistering minutes of hardcore punk topped by the only enjoyable Adam Jones performance since Tool’s “Lateralus.” Some dude set it to clips from a John Woo’s Chinese action movie Hard Boiled, available on YouTube, and the results are pretty spot-on. The other two fantastic tracks on Pigs are “The Bloated Pope,” whose belching drop-C riffs and structural economy remind me of Kyuss, and “The Idolatrous Apostate,” which features Buzz Osborne’s artificially lowered vocals, softly murmuring synths and the percussive sound of a broom. In other words, the Melvins.
Overall, this is probably the best Melvins album we got in the Oughts decade. I’m still chewing on A Walk With Love and Death, their 2017 record, because it’s fucking strange. Not sure about the “soundtrack” disc, but the tracks on the “song” disc are enjoyable. Good or bad, though, I don’t think it’ll turn out to be as awesome as Pigs of the Roman Empire.