Justify Your Shitty Taste: Melvins’ “The Colossus of Destiny”

There’s an old fake news headline from Buddyhead (I think) that applies to the task at hand, but I’m scrambling to source right now. The basic gist is “Mike Patton Takes a Shit on Microphone, Releases It,” and while that’s entirely fair to Mr. Patton, it also describes about 85 percent of the Ipecac catalog and a generous portion of what the insanely-prolific Melvins have delivered over the course of the last 30+ years.
The totally-amazing-to-total-horseshit ratio depends on your taste—Melvins devotees tend to debate the merits of the band’s recorded output with the sort of religious fervor that ninth graders in jazz band apply to Rush. There are a few Melvins albums that jump out immediately as fine candidates for a Justify Your Shitty Taste column, but alas, they are all indefensible. Exhibit A: Chicken Switch, the remix album that features a series of shockingly obtuse mixes of Melvins standards—considering the equally high peaks and valleys and slower tempos of the group’s sludgier stuff, it’s a lukewarm idea executed poorly. Exhibit B: Prick, the first “noise” album the Melvins released (purportedly to raise money for the recording of Stoner Witch), is universally reviled, but I’m not brave enough to launch an argument in its defense, especially when then-bassist Mark Deutrom already dismissed it as “total garbage.” Exhibit C: Sieg Howdy!—the first Melvins and Jello Biafra collaboration—which is full of piss-takes/leftovers from previous albums/remixes, and was immortalized in a J. Bennett review for Decibel that I can still quote from memory: “I like my Melvins here and my Jello Biafra wayyyy over there.”

As a matter of personal preference, I fall squarely in the camp that thinks every Melvins release should sound like Gluey Porch Treatments, Bullhead, Ozma and Lysol, and have limited patience for the stuff the band released after its contract with Atlantic expired. With the possible exception of the recordings the Melvins made with Lustmord (when they were totally under the thrall of Throbbing Gristle and Coil), I don’t think any of the cross-artist/band collaborations are too hot. I also don’t think any of the remix albums or albums featuring remixes (see above) are worth your time. And I really don’t like any of the numerous live albums the band has released to showcase recontextualized older material with new lineups, because the experience of listening to a recording of the Melvins playing live always pales to actually seeing them live.

colossus cover

Despite all of this, I would still argue that a live album that presents a remix of earlier material (sort of) and was recorded as a collaborative effort (sort of) ranks right up there with the best of the band’s recorded output, and that The Colossus of Destiny presents the apotheosis of the Melvins’ experimental phase. The fans on the album’s Amazon product page do not agree. Well, half of them don’t. The reviews are an even split between 1s and 5s, which would suggest that this is, at least, the most polarizing Melvins release. The controversy seems to stem over whether this is all an unfunny joke (50 or so minutes of samples and feedback paving the way for an abrupt version of Gluey Porch Treatments classic “Eye Flys”) or a blissful exploration of abstract noise delivered as the ultimate bookend to one of the most iconic Melvins songs ever.

It’s a matter of context, I suppose. The story—possibly apocryphal—is that King Buzzo, Dale Crover, then-bassist Kevin Rutmanis (under the pseudonym “Korny Ass Joker”) and Adam Jones of Tool went off the rails during the first half of a set in Cupertino in 1999 and cranked the volume so loud that unsuspecting patrons covered their ears and fled the building. That’s not out of character for the Melvins, who employed similar shock tactics to silence crowds as an opener on stadium tours during the same interval. At max volume, The Colossus of Destiny is a sure bet to clear the room—I can’t even imagine what it would’ve sounded like with a full stack or reverberating around the walls of a small club.

I don’t advocate listening to it like that, though. At a more moderate volume, it’s actually an amazing “headphones album”: you can hear how this configuration of the band lays out all of the component parts (test patterns, air raid sirens, odd riffs, even stranger samples) and slowly builds to the climax—a bowel-shaking rendition of “Eye Flys.” Like Lou Reed’s similarly reviled/adored Metal Machine Music, it has accrued additional meaning as a drone epic (something that falls squarely in line with the Lori Black/Joe Preston era of the Melvins), and listening to it can be a profoundly transcendental experience. I’ve popped it on the stereo while doing yoga or meditating (whatever your drug of choice works, too), where it’s—as Sonic Youth would say—an expressway to yr skull.

I don’t buy that it’s a “joke,” though. Or, if it is a joke, it’s more sophisticated than, say, covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Leif Garrett. The porno film samples teased out over the length of the recording (possibly an homage to the band’s longtime associate, the infamous adult film director Gregory Dark) reveal a tawdry, meticulous narrative. And, as it turns out, the addition of “Eye Flys”—seemingly appended to the end of the noise set—isn’t a left-field pull at all. As hard as it can be to divine meaning from the Melvins’ willfully-obtuse lyrics, “Eye Flys” is absolutely a song about fucking: “I lay like you/I feel the same.” The Colossus of Destiny is 50 or so minutes of foreplay that brings you into the bedroom before “Eye Flys” rocks your world. Can you keep it in your pants long enough to get there?

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